Saturday, June 15, 2024

Cardinal Watch: From Merchant Marines to rock climber

Hailing from Long Island, Ferguson came to Plattsburgh as a non-traditional student to pursue higher education in one of Plattsburgh State’s most selective program, Expeditionary Studies.

Before coming to PSUC, Ferguson racked up a number of life experiences. One in particular was her experience in The United States Merchant Marine Academy. She held the role of second mate on an oil tanker — or in her words, she “drove really big ships.”

She entered into the academy after finding that her first choice for school, the University of Vermont, was too expensive.

Her dad was in administration there for 30 years, and she grew up on the water. “I can get a really good job without going to grad school, and it’s free because it’s a federal academy,” she said. “It sounded cool, so I went for it.”

She received her bachelor’s degree in logistics and intermodal transportation, which is essentially marine navigation mixed with business. “Logistics is huge, so I chose that path because if I didn’t want to sail the rest of my life, which I certainly didn’t, that was the best way to go,” Ferguson said.

In a dominantly male field, only 10 percent of the school is made up of women; Ferguson would usually be the only female out of the 20 to 30 people on her ship.

“Basically the things that are completely illegal in the desk-job world are sometimes overlooked in the maritime industry for the most part,” she said.

In order to cope with frequent sexism, Ferguson told herself she would do her job so well and never complain about physical activity.

“When people gave me physical labor or hard tasks, I didn’t complain. I wouldn’t say ‘I can’t do this.’ I would just do it, and I would do everything well,” she said. “So that they could never say, ‘Oh that’s why we don’t want women here.”

After her four years in the maritime industry, Ferguson sailed for a couple years and stopped it was hard to have a social life while sailing. She said she wanted to have a relationship at some point, and although she enjoyed being at sea, she thought the job was monotonous.

After sailing ended, she worked at various companies for six years. She was a ship coordinator where she controlled a fleet of 90 ships all over the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I was the person on-call every time there was an emergency or a single question about anything,” Ferguson said. “If there was an oil-spill, or the ship ran aground or it got attacked by pirates, I was the one they called right away — I was the fix-it person.”

Ferguson said after holding this job, it would be the end for her. She said it was stressful and ruined every birthday and holiday.

“I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, I couldn’t see myself in an office and on-call like that all the time,” she said. “It was hard to have a life outside of it.”

She went searching for something she was really interested in and found the EXP program at PSUC. She had to ask herself, “Do I give up my salary and my life in Connecticut to move to Upstate New York to start over again in a program where I have no idea where I’ll end up?”

Being outdoors was what made her happy. She said joining the EXP program was intimidating at first, but she didn’t feel out of place because a lot of the students are older and have a similar background as her.

Department Chair of Expeditionary Studies Laurence Soroka has worked with Ferguson for two and a half years. Soroka said Ferguson has served as a teaching assistant for the Outdoor Living Curriculum and has shown her willingness to step into roles of responsibility.

Soroka said he thinks there is a paradox for people like Ferguson who come in with a higher level of experience and have been in positions of responsibility, who have given and taken orders and already study in an undergraduate program.

“I think in time, she has allowed herself to become a beginner, to come in at the basic level and be open to learning as a new EXP student,” Soroka said. “She may or may not have struggled, what I do know is having allowed herself to learn at those basic levels, her work experience, her past in the Merchant Marines and her new experience in EXP is a seamless package coming together.”

As an EXP major, concentrating in climbing and skiing, Ferguson has been skiing in Utah and rock-climbing in Nevada. During her senior expedition, she journeyed to Montana and Idaho. She even spent three weeks in Nepal.

EXP major and friend Maeghan Farnham said Ferguson is driven and loves what she is doing. The first time they met, Ferguson was flying down a mountain on a bike.

“My first impression of her was this intense action-sports person,” Farnham said.

“I definitely admire her and how she came to be in the program,” Farnham said. “Quitting her job to get into outdoor education — that’s pretty brave for sure.”

Head Paddling Instructor at PSUC Steven Maynard said Greer is a mature and focused student.

He said that in this very dynamic profession, it is important to be able to adapt and problem-solve.

“She (Ferguson) has, almost certainly, been able to make herself comfortable in situations that would have been very challenging to her before joining the major,” Maynard said.

“For me, my underlying attitude when people tell me I can’t is I’m going to try a hell of a lot harder,” Ferguson said.

Email Brittany Shew at

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