Cal Maritime gains two important new leaders who will help enhance the cadet experience as the campus comes back to life later this month.  Mac Griswold, the new Dean of Students, has crisscrossed the country from Connecticut to Alabama, always focusing on creating diverse and inclusive environments in which students can succeed in their academics and personal development.  He comes to us from the University of Alabama, where he served as the Director of Support Programs, Capstone Center for Student Success.

His new colleague Lennon Prothro-Jones, Director of Residence Life, is no slouch when it comes to air miles either.  Early in his career he moved to Australia to serve as the Residential Life Manager at the University of Sydney and while he loved it there, the U.S. based company he worked for called him back to the States to work for the University of Texas Arlington.  He comes to Cal Maritime from nearly four years as Assistant Director of Residential Life at San Jose State University.  Lennon is settling into life in Vallejo, having just purchased a house and making plans for his wedding this October.

Together they join Cal Maritime at a key juncture as we regain our footing with cadets living and attending classes on campus.

What drew you to Cal Maritime?

Lennon: “I am actually a “707” native!  I grew up in Vallejo/Benicia so this a bit of a homecoming with much of my family still being in the area.  But Maritime also has such a unique academic experience that I am really excited to learn and hopefully add value to.”

Mac: “There were three aspects that drew me to campus, despite not being thoroughly familiar with the academy model. First, the feel and connections of a small campus, similar to what I experienced at Rice University for 13 years, are important to me. They allow faculty and staff to connect more intimately with cadets and their experiences and aspirations, both for life on campus and outside our academic environment. Second, the institution’s commitment to leadership development and experiential learning. In addition to the high-quality academic programs and preparations cadets receive, they also have integrated, complementary learning that happens outside the classroom. These are crucial to the development of active and engaged citizens who will work for the public good. Third, as I learned throughout the application and interview process, the honor, integrity, and discipline instilled by the overall academy experience. Cadets gain unique knowledge, skills, and dispositions through their experience at Cal Maritime and in each conversation with them, I heard the respect for history and tradition, as well as the faith and trust they place in their shipmates.”

The pandemic impacts the ability to connect with others socially.  What ideas do you have to address that?

Mac: “Social engagement is crucial to the cadet experience in terms of development, satisfaction, and belonging. Campus offices adapted and continued programs and services throughout the pandemic, exhibiting tremendous resourcefulness, but it necessarily happened in virtual or isolated contexts. Transitioning from a mindset of resilience to one of renaissance is on the mind of all faculty and staff as we reengage cadets in social experience. We are moving from a place of surviving to one of thriving. This entails reestablishing traditions that needed to be curtailed during the pandemic, focusing on deeper and more frequent engagement opportunities when cadets are more likely to be available, and bringing cadets – both those in formal leadership roles and those that are not – into discussions on new programming that will help them reconnect with each other, particularly our first year cadets, second year cadets that were not on campus last year, and cadets transferring from another institution.”

Lennon: “This year, though we anticipate having the ability to hold more activities and events in-person, we are going to continue to be creative in how we find ways to engage and develop cadets.  One idea that is already in motion is to have more social media presence, but to use those to better share the cadet experience and showcase the amazing things our cadets are doing.  Another aim is being able to expand the use of our common areas in hall for our on-campus residential cadets as the year goes on, and we are able to meet reasonable health measures for the spaces. For me, it is about making sure that as much as we have a goal for their experience, that we highlight the experiences while they are in them.  I am encouraged that it is not me alone who will help set that tone.  Whether it is the RHOs, other Res Life staff, ASCMA, or many of the other Student Affairs offices, we are pretty excited for having the cadets back and able to have a more complete cadet experience.”

Mac, a lot of your previous experience is in inclusion, diversity and building community.  What plans do you have in those areas?

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and social justice have been the foundation of my career and community-based work. They are fundamental to building strong communities in which members have an implicit trust in one another and exhibit empathy and understanding. This empathy and understanding are built out of the sharing of lived experiences and perspectives, as well as education and training around skill-building, such as active listening, facilitation, and reflection. Cal Maritime’s re-commitment to DEI initiatives – education and training; climate assessment and policy; and dialogue and programming – was one of the reasons I chose to join the Keelhauler family. The newly reconstituted Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council chaired by Educational Opportunity Program Coordinator King Xiong recently convened with representation from across campus, including member from each of the cadet leadership groups, and working with the first of its public meetings. I’m also looking forward to working with the Associated Students to advise and support cadets interested in forming and leading identity-based student groups and organizations to build a sense of belonging for underrepresented communities on campus. Finally, much of this work will be led or advised by a new Coordinator of Belonging and Engagement within the Office of the Dean of Cadets who will be a leader in the area, as well as a liaison to many of the existing efforts on campus. This person will be hired in the fall semester and the search and selection process will have cadet involvement.”

Lennon, what challenges do you think need to be addressed at this time, in general and related to reopening full residence life during the pandemic?

“Honoring first and foremost our commitment to the heath and safety of our community. This encompasses physical health precautions we can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as the mental and other health challenges faced by our cadets, faculty, and staff. After that, maintaining the integrity of the academic experience and institutional mission. Retuning to full, in-person instruction for all cadets is a piece of this, but it also includes the range of academic support programs, services, and activities in which cadets engage. Finally, we need to remain prepared to change course in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, as circumstances dictate. This could mean adjusting campus policies around health and safety, academic instruction, or other areas, and doing so as seamlessly as possible.”

Mac, I understand that you will be partnering with Academic Affairs on First Year Experience.  Can you share some of the plans?

“We will be relaunching the First Year Experience as a program with three distinct, but connected components, sharing common goals and outcomes. First, the traditional first year cadets (first-year, first-time) will participate in First Year Experience Seminars that will take place over the leadership hour throughout the fall semester. This will cover six topics crucial to cadets’ first year success and sense of belonging in our community. Second, some faculty teaching courses that touch large segments of our first-year class will introduce or reinforce content on academic skills, such as note taking, goal setting, and managing time and commitments. Third, some first-year cadets will be connected to upper-division peers through one-on-one mentoring relationships. This final, cadet-developed component will address the unique needs of cadets transferring from other institutions, veterans, and female-identifying cadets.”

Lennon, what impact has living abroad had on you, personally and professionally?

“I was very fortunate in getting to work at the University of Sydney.  It was a remarkable experience.  Every university has its own culture and style, but adjusting to a different national approach was very eye opening.  The big thing was seeing how another country solved some of the same challenges every education system faces.  It was an opportunity to truly see the world from a different point of view, and I was able to learn so much about myself while also making great friends.  I never thought Res Life would take me overseas, and now I am working at a campus that is all about our cadets traversing those very seas, gotta love it.

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus offers undergraduate degrees that prepare students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.