MARAD Appoints Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan to Lead USMMA

Rear Admiral Nunan is the first woman appointed as USMMA Superintendent in the academy's eight-decade history

Capt. Joanna Nunan
Then-Captain Joanna Nunan at Sector Honolulu, 2010 (USCG file image)

Published Nov 13, 2022 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Every superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy receives the honorary title of "admiral" upon taking office, but the latest appointee is already equipped. Rear Admiral Joanna Nunan, a retired U.S. Coast Guard two-star, is the academy's first female director and the first in many years with a background in HR and academic administration - critical skillsets for the academy's reform agenda. 

“Rear Admiral Nunan is uniquely prepared to lead and strengthen USMMA on every front,” said Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips in a statement. “She understands both the critical role USMMA plays in our economic and national security and the organizational transformations that are essential to ensuring USMMA prepares students in a safe and respectful environment to excel in a maritime industry undergoing rapid change.”

Rear Admiral Nunan retired this year as the Coast Guard’s Deputy for Personnel Readiness. In that role, she oversaw the Coast Guard's HR functions, including recruitment and training, and she supervised the Coast Guard Academy and served on its Board of Trustees. She previously served as Assistant Commandant for Human Resources, leading the USCG's diversity and inclusion efforts - including its effort to fix low retention for female servicemembers.

In earlier achievements, she commanded the Ninth Coast Guard District and USCG Sector Honolulu. She also accumulated nine years of sea time over the span of her career and held a civilian MMC with a 3rd Mate Unlimited endorsement - the same credential awarded to USMMA graduates.

Early in her career, Rear Adm. Nunan also served as a military assistant to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, a well-regarded leader and a lifelong advocate for the U.S. maritime industry. 

Rear Adm. Nunan will have a busy docket when her tenure begins in a few weeks' time. In the most recent of many USMMA reform studies, a panel convened by public-administration consultancy NAPA found that the academy requires a "transformation in governance" and has "made little, no, or slow progress towards addressing" known problems. The panel compiled a list of unsolved issues, and most are centered on HR. These challenges include a byzantine federal hiring process which hobbles faculty recruitment; too few facilites personnel; low minority and female enrollment; a student culture that discourages reporting of sexual assault; gaps in protection for Sea Year cadets; a shortage of professional capacity in the ranks of USMMA's administrators; overlapping oversight boards with fragmented responsibilities; a fractious relationship with parent agency MARAD; and questionable accounting controls.