When 2017 Defiance High School graduate Rose Viggiano was searching for the right college, her grandma suggested the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Mich.
Viggiano’s first thought?
“I don’t know... It sounds kind of weird.”
But the 20-year-old, who said she’s always liked being on the water, visited the school, and the exposure left her with a different impression.
“Right away, I thought, ‘Oh, this is where I want to go. This is awesome,’” Viggiano said. “We took a tour of the ship, and they explained the different types of jobs we could get. They explained what we’d be doing on the ship, and I thought it actually sounded like a lot of fun.”
So after spending her first post-high school summer working at a factory in Napoleon, she headed to Traverse City.
Now embarking on her third year in the academy’s deck officer program, Viggiano skipped summer break to help oversee a group of first-year cadets doing deck work on the training ship. She is president of Women on the Water, and a member of the Strategic Sealift Midshipmen Program (SSMP), the latter requiring additional training and physical-readiness testing as part of the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Her mother, Erin Clady, a service officer at the Defiance County Veterans Office, said she’s proud of her daughter for picking such an exciting, and challenging, career path.
“She is stepping into a male-dominated career field, she seems to be excelling at it and she really loves it,” Clady said.
Upon completion of the four-year program in 2021, Viggiano will have earned her third-mate unlimited-tonnage license, which will enable her to work either on the ocean, or the lakes.
“I’m pretty sure I want to stay on the lakes,” Viggiano said. “I’m not sure if I want to be a captain yet; it’s a lot of responsibility.”
Still, she’ll take to the open ocean this year for a semester-long sea project, one of three projects program grads must complete, amounting to a total of 300 days spent on the water.
“The toughest thing is the memorization,” Viggiano said. “In the lakes, you have to memorize all the buoys and lighthouses, the courses, and the distances between different places, because if you deviate from those courses, you could run aground and cause a big shipwreck.”
But her favorite thing about the program she chose is the people she’s met so far.
“All of the people in the program have the same interests as me,” Viggiano said. “There are all really funny and supportive.”
Viggiano is the second oldest of five siblings, and the only girl.
“She was always playing outside, up trees and down at the creek,” Clady said. “She has always been covered in dirt and scrapes ... I could always see her fiery hair go from tree to tree in our backyard.
“She has always excelled, academically, math being her strong point. She’s athletic, involved in school activities and has been a very compassionate, caring and wonderful person.”
At least one of her brothers thinks she’s pretty neat, too.
“He said he either wants to work on the ships with me, starting as a deckhand and working his way up, or else he wants to take care of my house and dogs while I’m on the ship,” Viggiano said of her sibling. “He’s 15 right now. He came to Traverse City for spring break and said, ‘This is awesome, can I come live with you?’”