Faces of MSC: David Rowley

David Rowley, a Downington, Pa. native, worked with electronics systems for 30 years in a variety of DOD and private sector defense-related positions. He joined Military Sealift Command in 2002, serving as an electronics technician aboard five different ships, including USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).

In August 2009, Rowley became the first person accepted into MSC’s Unlicensed to Licensed Mariner Degree Program*. Through this program, MSC supported Rowley during three years of study at Texas Maritime Academy, Texas A&M University.

Rowley graduated cum laude Dec. 15 with a bachelor’s degree in Marine Transportation. He also passed the Coast Guard’s examination to receive a merchant marine license. The following blog post is an excerpt from an interview with Rowley about his experiences with MSC and Texas A&M.

David Rowley on graduation day. U.S. Navy photo by John Quandt

MSC: As an electronics technician at sea, what did a typical day look like?

Rowley: I was assigned to the engine room, so that’s where my day started. I interfaced with the first engineer and the watch engineer, and they let me know if they had any problems with the systems overnight. After that, I’d make my way up to the bridge and check in with the mate on watch, who verified that all their systems worked to their satisfaction. Then I’d make my rounds and make sure that all the equipment I’m responsible for is up and running properly. I had a list of priorities that I kept, and I just worked down that list fixing equipment and doing preventive maintenance.

MSC: Why did you decide to pursue a career as a deck officer?

Rowley: Well, when I used to do my rounds and go up to the bridge, I was intrigued by the 3rd mate’s job. And, I wanted to upgrade and give myself new challenges in life. I could have just tested to become a 3rd engineer, but I really wanted to be topside where I could see what was going on, and put myself on the path to becoming a ship captain. The program was great timing; this was a great opportunity that enabled me to pursue a career advancement.

MSC: What stood out to you about Texas A&M?

Rowley: When I was on my last ship, USNS Mercy, my chief mate at the time was a graduate of Texas A&M. He’s the one who introduced me to the unlicensed to licensed mariner degree program, which was something I hadn’t heard of. We were talking one day and he said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Joking around, I said “Yes, you can make me captain of the ship.” He said “Oh, well I might be able to help you with that, come up to my office.” We got up there and he printed out this program. So with a little bit of encouragement on a daily basis, I went ahead and made the plunge and applied to Texas A&M, was accepted, and here I am.

MSC: What were some of the highlights and challenges at school?

Rowley: The highlights were acquiring the skills necessary to handle the demands of being in charge of a navigation watch, and all the other responsibilities that are expected of you as an officer aboard a vessel. Although I know there is still much to learn when I return to the fleet, I look forward to the opportunity.

As far as challenges, I put a lot of pressure on myself to maintain good grades, and to be an excellent representative of MSC. I believe I accomplished this, and having a degree now gives me a great sense of satisfaction, and the security that I have a degree I can utilize.


MSC: Do you want to share any parting thoughts?

Rowley: I’d like to thank Rear Adm. Reilly [MSC’s former commander], who initiated the Unlicensed to Licensed Mariner Degree Program and gave me the opportunity to fulfill this goal. I’d also like to thank Rear Adm. Buzby for continuing to support those of us who were selected for the program, Jack Taylor and his staff, Kyrm Hickman and his staff, and my mentor at MSC, John Quandt. Last but not least, I’d like to thank Capt. Matthew Bush, who three years ago was my chief mate aboard USNS Mercy.

*MSC froze the Unlicensed to Licensed Mariner Degree Program, accepting no additional enrollees after April 7, 2010. Under the program, an unlicensed (non-officer) MSC civil service mariner could earn an undergraduate degree from one of the six state maritime academies and a merchant marine deck or engineering officer’s license. Four CIVMARs remain enrolled in the program. Additional information on active merchant marine credential upgrade programs is available here.

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