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Women’s History Month: An Interview with Amie Carter, mentor and role model for women in the maritime industry.

by Rear Admiral Wendi Carpenter (U.S. Navy Retired) Executive Director of the Phillips Trust

I was privileged in the past few weeks to speak with Amie Carter about her life and career.  Amie is a delightful person, with a quiet, but engaging persona.  She’s also a wonderful role model and there is no doubt in my mind, she must be a few points over the IQ scale of “genius.”  However, she protests my opinion on that and simply says, “I work really hard. I put in lots of time and effort in all that I do, because I want to be sure of an excellent outcome.”  Indeed, a recipe for success we can all employ.  Amie Carter is a pioneer of women in the maritime industry and is among the first few African American women to graduate from SUNY Maritime College.

I first met Amie when I was the President at SUNY Maritime College and she returned for alumni events at “Fort Schuyler.  I was immediately impressed with her demeanor and professionalism.  She is focused, highly intelligent, and successful.  I knew someday we needed to coax her back to instruct at the college and to use her talents to help mentor future generations of mariners.  I was very pleased to learn recently that wish, in fact, has happened.

Amie is originally from Huntington, NY on Long Island and described having deep family roots in the area.  Her mom stayed home with Amie and a younger sister, while her dad worked as a very successful engineer with several major companies.  He was involved with electronics, technology, and computers. I mentioned to Amie, her dad working with computer, technology and communications platforms, at that time, would have still been on the leadingedge and probably no real clear “career path” or defined education existed for such a position.  So, in many ways, he pioneered this sort of work and must have been a role model for Amie.  She laughed and said, “I probably could not fully appreciate what he would try to talk with me about back then.  And I did not grasp the exceptional things he was doing in his professional life.  She reflected that she was largely unmoved by the intricacies of the conversation.

I asked Amie how she came to be an engineer and embrace a challenging career in the maritime industry – truly one of the pioneers of women in the industry.  Amie recounted that it was a family friend from church who first told her about State of New York Maritime College (Schuyler) located not too far away in the Bronx.  Amie entered the grueling program in 1996 and received her degree in Facilities Engineering in 2000, as well as, a USCG license to sail as a 3rd engineer with steam propulsion.  

Amie spoke readily of the big challenges of the school program, both academically and because she was one of so few women in the program.  The culture of a male dominated environment and industry, was and often, still is, not always one of acceptance.  As she entered her chosen course of study, only two other women were in her class in Engineering, although there were otherwomen on campus.  But still, “very few people – women – with whom you could have certain conversations, look to for perspectives or ask advice.  (I certainly understood that, as it was similar for me in my aviation career in the Navy, even until almost my retirement.)  

Sadly, there were and still are some men who do not want to see women in such positions of responsibility and have done what they could to make it more difficult to succeed in many career fields.   But then – there remain the steady champions who open doors for anyone who works hard and is motivated, regardless of gender or race.  Such champions and advocates are focused on potential, professional capability and achievement, and make the maritime industry or other career fields more open, productive, and enjoyable for everyone.  Mentoring, true leadership and removing arbitrary barriers seems to be among their life’s work.  

Amie recalled especially the advocacy and acceptance that was provided by Professor Baumgart, who eventually left SUNY and went to teach at Kings Point.  Amie recalled him as a wonderful teacher, steady at the helm, just teaching, motivating students and opening doors.  And then there is Professor Dick Burke, who worked to bring her back to SUNY Maritime as an instructor.

Amie shared among her best memories of school were her close shipmates and the adventure of summer Sea Terms with trips to Europe.  Following graduation, Amie accepted a position as an engineer and shipped out for about five years, working with the opportunities she was afforded by union membership with MEBA (Maritime Engineers Beneficial Association.)

Her day to day “at sea” routine was what she described as “risk management and challenge” and spoke of the consistent opportunities the personal satisfaction and rewards of completing missions with a crew of like-minded professionals who worked hard at the demands of a life at sea, fraught with potential dangers.  Amie lamented that not many people are aware of the immense contributions of those who go to sea and truly are the lifeblood of the shipping industry and, also, those who are behind the scenes in the other sectors of the maritime industry.  And that all of it, is so important to our national security and a strong economy.  

Amie “came ashore” after five years of sailing, as her father had passed away and she was seeking more time with her mother and sister (who is in early childhood education).  But, she has not slowed down for even a moment in her professional growth.   Since leaving her career on the sea, Amie has held several very demanding and leading-edge positions. She recounted the similarities of being an engineer for the “steam plant” on the ship and the generating plants for energy and electricity or those at hospitals.  I found it most interesting to listen as she described the intricacies of her job working at the Salem Generating Station in New Jersey, where she achieved a series of certifications to work at this nuclear power plant.  She was quick to tell me she was not a nuclear engineer, but was a facilities engineer, working with the operators.  We spoke about her role in establishing equipment reliability checks, monitoring trends and ensuring proper communications about any issues she might discover that would hinder operations of the plant.  And yes, it paralleled with the job at sea, with risk abounding.

Amie is the quintessential role model and mentor – impacting more than ever now that she is teaching at the college level and shaping the future of the maritime industry by getting the newest would-be engineers through USCG licensing courses and summer sea term preparations.  All in a days work.  In her spare time, Amie stays involved with organizations doing philanthropic work such as the Organization of Black Maritime Graduates (OBMG) and the Captain Phillips Trust.  And if all of that is not enough for her, Amie is in now in hot pursuit of a Masters degree in Technology Management.

We are grateful for Amie’s time and sharing her thoughts on her career, and on the future.  Amie Carter is a true “trailblazer” and worthy of emulation by all of us.  She is clearly working out a destiny of positive impact and not wasting a moment of possibilities.  Asked for her advice to overcome challenges like those she has faced in her career in the maritime and ashore as a woman and a person of color, Amie said with quiet conviction, “Keep working hard, no matter what happens.  Persevere and know that difficult moments will confront each of us – no matter your background, education, gender or race.  Realize life is full of ups and downs.  Learn from the tough times and focus on the positives.  Believe in yourself and that others are out there who care.  Don’t ever give up.”  Amie is very much a light for the future of the maritime industry.

THANK YOU, AMIE, for your words of wisdom and your positive example to us all !!