A woman wearing a captains uniform
Story Alumni

Buoyed by Education, Alumna Makes Herstory at Cal Maritime

Alisia Ruble

Samar Bannister returns to the CSU to serve as the Academy’s first female captain.

A woman wearing a captains uniform

Having spent her childhood in the tiny, land-locked town of Lake City, Colorado, Samar Bannister was swept away by the sights and sounds she experienced when she first arrived at Cal Maritime in the 90s to pursue her dream of working in the deep-sea maritime industry.

Though the university only enrolled around 700 students at the time, it was a world away from her previous life where she attended elementary school with roughly four classmates and was bussed 55 miles to the next town to attend junior high and high school.  

“When I stepped onto campus the first time, the fog was rolling in—you could hear the signals from nearby ships—and the energy from the students was intoxicating," she recalls. “My time at the Academy truly was a dream, and it opened my​ eyes to the possibility of what was out there."

Bannister's four years at Cal Maritime were exciting ones. She says the formative education she received allowed the ​dreams of a small-town girl to become a reality. In addition to the academic experience, she took advantage of leadershipA young woman wearing a cadet uniform ​Captain Samar Bannister during her time as a student at Cal Maritime. opportunities that prepared her for the unique career of being a merchant mariner.

The proud alumna is thrilled to return to her alma mater to become the first female captain at Cal Maritime. As captain,​ she commands the Training Ship Golden Bear (TSGB), a working classroom that provides two months of at-sea training every summer for first- and third-year students and serves as a laboratory for new marine technology.

“When a friend told me of the opportunity, it was as if my compass swung true," Bannister says. “One of the greatest benefits is being part of the CSU, a huge network of people who love education and are focused on where we're going next."

As captain of the TSGB, Bannister will ensure the ship is up to industry standards and foster a safe and enjoyable environment for cadets while preparing them for careers in the maritime industry. This includes intellectual learning, training in applied technology, leadership development and exposure to different cultures.

“I work hard, treat everyone with respect and do the best that I can, so I hope I can be a role model for anyone who is striving to go to the next level," Bannister says.

Sailing into Foreign Territory

As a child, Bannister never felt she was treated differently by her parents because she was a girl. “I come from a family who did not discriminate against or favor either sex—you could either do the job or not," she says. “They taught me that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses."

This mindset prepared her for her future work in the male-dominated maritime industry. “I was very aware that I was entering an environment and industry that was male-dominated, and I wanted to prove to everyone that I was a valuable member of the team," Bannister says. 

After graduating from Cal Maritime's Marine Transportation (MT) program in 2000, Bannister began her career conducting survey operations on a fleet of Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) research vessels and, soon after, moved up to a larger fleet of vessels, the Watson Class LMSR RO-RO's.

Bannister ​spent 14 years sailing the deep sea with Maersk Line, Limited, and Ocean Ships Inc., which provide transportation solutions in support of the military. In these roles, she worked in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She also served in senior positions for Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS), acted as Commanding Officer of the USNS Soderman, a logistics naval vessel that supplies ships across the world with military equipment, and recently taught at the Training Resources Maritime Institute. She is a master mariner who holds an unlimited master's license, the highest grade of seafarer qualification.

“I am beyond appreciative of these experiences and proud to have been a captain of an efficient and safe crew who happily returned trip after trip," she says.

But her greatest accomplishment has been becoming a mother, Bannister says. She moved shoreside in 2014 to start a family with her husband Jack and embraced the roles of wife and mother. While her family is supportive of her decision to return to the maritime industry, the opportunity meant relocating them to Vallejo, California.

“I know my daughter Madeline is proud of me, but in her seven-year-old mind she's more concerned with how much I'll be away," Bannister says. “I hope in due course she will come to see the value of my hard work and perseverance."

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 serves nearly 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees preparing students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. The new oceanography degree program launched in the fall of 2020. Cal Maritime also offers a master's degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.

Faculty; Leadership