Laila Linares



Visiting the Philly Shipyard in 2023 to check on the progress of the first NSMV, the Empire State before it headed to its new home at SUNY Maritime College in New York. (Above)



Laila Linares with the US Dept. of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD

When Laila Linares was a kid, she liked to figure out how things worked, how to fix them, and how to make them better. She often helped her father with maintenance projects around the house and on their cars. In high school she took as many honors and Advanced Placement classes as she could and got a summer internship focusing on civil engineering. Her father is a professional mariner, and so, when it came time to look for colleges, he suggested the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), which offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in fields related to ships and seafaring, such as marine engineering, maritime law, maritime logistics and security.

USMMA is a unique, challenging institution for students—called midshipmen—who want to take the path less traveled, are willing to work hard, and want to serve our nation in some way. As a United States service academy, USMMA is part of—and funded by—the federal government.(1) In return, graduates must fulfill a service obligation, which can include work in the US maritime industry and service as an officer in a reserve unit of the Armed Forces, or active duty in any branch of the Armed Forces or the non-armed uniformed services.

After graduation from high school in southern Florida, Laila packed her bags and headed to Kings Point in Long Island, New York. Four years later, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering systems and a minor in environmental engineering, a USCG-issued Unlimited Third Assistant Engineer’s license, and an officer commission in the US Navy Reserve.

Her first job out of college was with the Military Sealift Command, during which time she served as a Merchant Marine engineering officer aboard ships sailing across the globe, operating and maintaining marine propulsion plants, and supervising the engineering department. She later worked ashore doing strategic planning, contract administration and vessel design, construction, and repair projects.

Today, she’s got a shoreside job with the US Maritime Administration (MARAD), overseeing and managing the $1.75 billion National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV) program, which will provide the nation’s maritime academies with new purpose-built, high-tech training ships for the first time in history. Laila may not go to sea these days, but the job takes her out of the office on a regular basis to inspect vessels as they are being built in the shipyard, attend management meetings with the shipbuilder and management contractor, brief Congress on the status of the program, and present at conferences and forums on all kinds of topics related to the maritime industry. In her program management reviews, she addressed complex topics related to ship design, safety, testing, and logistical support.

Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington, DC.

Laila was a panelist at the 2022 Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington, DC.

Laila also spends considerable time in the office implementing the many tasks and managing the many people who help align the new NSMV program with MARAD’s business strategy and goals. These aren’t typical “pencil-pushing” tasks, as they require creating a vision and keeping the big picture in mind, which she finds to be very engaging and fulfilling. To say that she’s busy at work is an understatement.

In addition to her undergraduate degree and license from USMMA, along the way Laila earned a master’s degree in engineering management and certification from the Project Management Institute. As a senior program manager with the federal civilian agency, she is required to maintain a Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) core certification program.

Laila feels passionately about her role in the maritime industry and also about encouraging and supporting women and minorities, who are historically underrepresented in the
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) workforce. In her time off, she volunteers to mentor high school students who wish to pursue a STEM career, attend a US service academy, or pursue a maritime career.

To young men and women, she says: “I encourage you to stay confident in your desire to work in a STEM field and ignore anyone who tells you that math and engineering are too hard.” Laila is the perfect example of how “with hard work and dedication, anyone—regardless of gender, race, or color—can develop the proper skill set to pursue and be successful in their dream career.”

(1) USMMA is one of 5 federal service academies and one of 7 maritime academies (the other 6 are state schools). You can find information about maritime academies and careers in the maritime industry at

Did You Know?

Seal With Plastic Bottle

Marine animals consume plastic when they confuse it for food.

Small plastics and floating objects often look like food to aquatic animals and sea birds. When they eat plastic, it often gets stuck in their digestive system, making them feel full and unable to eat proper food.

What can YOU do?
Learn more at Getting Rid of Marine Debris