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From early on in his life, Ventura, California native Conley Schroepfer has put himself in situations that would help him grow as a leader. While in high school, he was the senior patrol leader of his Boy Scout troop, an athlete on several sports teams, class president during his senior year, and a volunteer for a handful of organizations. Conley has also led four blood drives, oversaw his school’s Senior Ball and Senior Picnic, and was actively involved in the school’s Drama Department -- his work there earned him a Director’s Award and Technician of the Year Award. Conley is most proud of his Eagle Scout award and his work with the Oxnard Fire Department, where served as Explorer Captain, running 911 calls and assisting in emergency operations.
In spring 2013, Conley received a Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Program Scholarship, which he applied towards earning his Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation at California Maritime Academy (now California State University Maritime Academy). At Cal Maritime, Conley was a member of the crew team. According to Conley, the degree taught him the practical skills required to supervise and operate merchant cargo vessels, and he is now licensed to work as a Third Mate. Currently, he works for Curtin Maritime, a Long Beach-based tug company specializing in marine construction and ocean towing.
What does leadership mean to you?
In the simplest form, successful leadership means understanding the people around you. Every task, job, company, or government that a leader is responsible for needs others’ help to function. I believe the most successful leaders understand how their employees operate, listen to feedback, and always look to improve their organization. Even on a large scale I think this philosophy applies. A leader understands the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of their managers or supervisors. While those supervisors understand the same of their employees under them.
What are you doing to grow as a leader?
In my line of work, knowledge goes hand in hand with leadership. The more you know about the industry, the task, and the people you’re working with, the more successful you will be. Leaders need experience in the field they want to lead in. That doesn’t come overnight, it’s developed over years of learning and practice. I am always learning the strengths and weaknesses of myself and the people around me. I always assist in different ways to do a task or project. Then, when I am in charge of a vessel or project, I can guide a crew to complete our responsibilities in the safest and most efficient way, however conditions warrant.
How do you approach challenges?
In work and personal life, I try to not get stressed over challenges or problems that arise. I know it is a lot easier said than done, but I believe there are some things that can make that easier. I approach challenges with a plan. l remember that there’s a solution somewhere, and come up with a way to accomplish that solution. I follow my plan, change it if necessary, and stop if it’s not getting better. I ask for advice from someone or help if I need it, and realizing that is okay to do is important.
What would you say to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I can’t imagine that a lot of perspective Reagan Scholars want to go work on ships, risk injury or accident, be awake in the middle of the night, and be away from home for weeks at a time… but I know those people do exist. No matter the industry or career, I think there’s one piece of advice that is common for everyone: find out what you are interested in and see what career can fit those interests. Talk to people in that field, but moreso, talk to several different people. Even in the same exact job for the same exact company, there might be people with different opinions on that industry.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Until the Sea Shall Free Them: Life, Death, and Survival in the Merchant Marine by Robert Frump. It’s a great book, and written in a way that non-mariners can still understand the book. It’s a true story about a vessel that sank in the 1980’s off the coast of New England. It was written by a former newspaper reporter who can explain complicated maritime topics in a simplified way. It accounts of the sinking, the aftermath, and the investigation into the cause told by different people involved. I love history, so it’s a really good story relating to maritime history. I think reading books that relate to your actual or intended career path is a great way to stay entertained while learning more about your field.