TRAVERSE CITY — Brittni Moore went from working as a camera assistant on the set of “The Walking Dead” to pursuing a degree as an engineering officer in Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Maritime Academy.
The 30-year-old already has a degree in filmmaking, but during a hiatus one summer she worked on a tall ship for two weeks. Two years later she was still there.
“I just fell in love with sailing,” said Moore, who also adds “The Blacklist” and “Nurse Jackie” to her credits. “I love the feel of being in a program where everyone has to work together in a very concrete goal of moving the ship.”
Moore was one of 50 cadets aboard the T/S State of Michigan training ship when it left its berth at the Hagerty Center early Tuesday.
Jerry Achenbach, superintendent of the Maritime Academy, said NMC is seeking to add women to its maritime engineering program in which only 8 to 12 percent of enrollees are female.
“We need more diversity and we need more engineers,” Achenbach said.
As the state maritime academy of Michigan, the GLMA educates and trains deck and engineering officers for the U.S. Merchant Marine. Jobs for graduates are plentiful and pay $70,000 to $80,000 a year in the high demand field, Achenbach said. The downside is that those who work on ships are away from home for about six months of the year, he said.
The academy usually has two training cruises per summer, but this year four cruises will take place through October to give 140 to 160 cadets the opportunity to earn sea time. The first four-week cruise will take them to Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and the Detroit and St. Mary’s rivers.
The pandemic shortened last year’s sailing season and has made it more difficult to find berths aboard commercial vessels. Cadets who normally share staterooms were also limited to one cadet per room.
The extra cruises allow all cadets to accrue some sea time, while also giving those who could not sail last year because of COVID-19 to make up for that missed time, Achenbach said.
There are about 200 cadets at the academy who must earn 360 days of required sea time during their four-year program.
“By having the training ship and flexible program we will be able to give cadets the opportunity to graduate when they were scheduled to, rather than them having to spend more time at the academy,” Achenbach said.
Daniel Flores is 35 and said his fellow cadets range from 19 to 40 years old — which is something he likes.
Originally from Peru, Flores now is starting the second year of the engineering program, where he’s learning how to take care of ships from stem to stern.
“It’s everything from installing hand sanitizer to pulling apart an engine,” he said.
Flores has worked on a cruise ship and will go back “to his element” as an engineer when he graduates.
Cadets and crew were required to be vaccinated or have quarantined and tested negative for COVID-19 prior to Tuesday’s departure.
Pawel Sowizdzal, 23, of Chicago, is in the deck officer program that entails getting the ship safely to its destination, he said. His goal is to work on an ocean-going research vessel, though traveling is what he loves.
“This career allows me to see a lot of new places and experience a lot of cultures,” Sowizdzal said.
But all those cadets and crewmembers need to eat and feeding sailors is also a high demand job. Megan Cook is in her second year of culinary school and is doing a paid internship earning $100 a day while earning the credentials to work on a ship.
It’s something that gives her more options and may satisfy her travel bug, the 19-year-old said. One day she’d like to work as a chef on a freighter or a cruise line.
“I’ve been cooking my entire life,” Cook said. “I just fell in love with it.”