As a Florida high schooler with a captain’s license in hand, Jerald “Jerry” Paul was ready to see the world. But a captain pulled him aside and suggested he go to one of the maritime academies and get a college degree.
The year was 1984 and Paul, born in Ohio and raised in the Sunshine State, had been working on boats and was ready to go into the Merchant Marine Corps.
Still, he looked at schools in Texas and California, but everyone he talked to told him there was only one place to go: Maine Maritime Academy. So in 1985, Paul matriculated at the academy, earning a degree in engineering four years later. The experience charted a course for the rest of his career, which includes stints in nuclear engineering, law, higher education, the Florida state legislature and as the principal deputy administrator of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.
Now, more than 30 years since graduating, Paul’s headed back to Castine to be Maine Maritime Academy’s 15th president.
“I’ve always attributed all the opportunities that I had, from a young man on, to what I call the ‘MMA experience,’” Paul said Tuesday. “The MMA experience is unique. It is special. It is something that happens nowhere else in the world, but right there in Castine.”
His four years at the academy immersed him in Maine’s culture, which has stayed with him ever since. He’s enjoyed advocacy, law and running the National Nuclear Security Administration, but the times that he’s spent working with young people in higher ed have been the most enriching, he said.
“So when I heard that there was an opportunity to do that back at MMA and be part of the MMA experience for others, it just made sense,” Paul said.
Paul was one of 39 candidates identified for the post as part of a national search and was picked as one of the three finalists that came to campus for town hall events with academy leadership.
“This has been a very exciting process for the Academy,” MMA board chairman Earle Cianchette said. “We are incredibly proud to now welcome Jerry back to Castine and to build the future of MMA with him.”
Paul, who will be leaving his post at the government affairs consulting firm Capitol Access in Florida, expects to start in the spring. He’ll be succeeding William Brennan, who plans to retire after 12 years in the leadership role at MMA.
“Jerry has the background, experience, and personal demeanor that is ideally suited to lead MMA at this important time in our history,” Brennan said.
Paul wants to build on the foundation laid by prior leaders at the academy. He is looking forward to getting to know the staff and students on the campus. He will be tasked with ushering in a new training ship, expanding academic offerings and potentially adapting the academy to the emerging offshore wind industry.
“Maine Maritime is perfectly positioned to play a crucial role in that, from logistics to operations to management, engineering and environmental affairs,” he said.
Paul also wanted to see the academy continue to grow the school’s new professional development center in Bucksport and was looking forward to becoming a member of the Castine community.
Paul and his wife Kristy will be traveling between Florida and Castine as part of the transition process, which Brennan has helped guide him through.
“He’s been wonderful in helping us adjust and get settled in and meet everybody on campus,” Paul said.