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From Clipper to Courtroom: Ryan Vechan ’07    

September 7, 2021

Assistant Head of the Department of Maritime Transportation and Assistant Professor of the Practice Ryan Vechan '07 teaches a class during the Texas A&M Maritime Academy's 2021 Summer Sea Term aboard the T/S Kennedy.
Assistant Head of the Department of Maritime Transportation and Assistant Professor of the Practice Ryan Vechan '07 teaches a class during the Texas A&M Maritime Academy's 2021 Summer Sea Term aboard the T/S Kennedy.

By Andréa Bolt, Communications Specialist, Division of Marketing & Communications

Ryan Vechan ‘07 is the quick moving, fast-talking type of professor you get when you combine the mind of a lawyer and the soul of a sailor.

The Texas A&M University at Galveston assistant head of the Department of Maritime Transportation and assistant professor of the practice has worked in nearly every aspect of the maritime industry, and now finds himself at the front of the classroom with the Texas A&M Maritime Academy (TAMMA).

This morning he has stood a 4 – 8 a.m. watch shift, and then taught a class until 11:30 a.m. He is planning to visit the ship’s gym afterward; maybe he’ll catch a nap this afternoon.

“You know, I choose that watch because you get to see the sun rise. I get to watch the sunrise each day we’re at sea, over the water. I love it, always have,” says Vechan. “This isn’t the aggressive sailing of my youth; now it’s pretty fun for me.”

Vechan’s youth was largely spent in lake-locked Austin, but he made it to the coast in a few ways.

Vechan recalls his grandparents inviting the immediate family aboard an Alaska to Vancouver cruise to celebrate the couple’s 50th anniversary. His family members enjoyed the shows, shopping, the buffet.

“But I’d just hang out on the deck watching the water. That was definitely the best part for me.”

The same grandparents used to visit Galveston every summer for an extended vacation, as it was his grandfather’s birthplace. The couple happened upon the Galveston Campus one day and decided to take a tour.

“They came back with some ‘hype’ video on a VHS tape. I was probably 16 at the time. I played it and I said, ‘You know, that seems cool. I’ll go there.’”

He excelled at the Galveston Campus. Serving as the TAMMA Corps of Cadets executive officer, a teaching assistant for celestial navigation class, and as a United States Merchant Marine reserve officer; Vechan was sailing.

Vechan as a Texas A&M Maritime Academy cadet in 2007
Vechan graduated from the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in 2007, serving in the United States Navy Reserve Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Group through 2015. 

When he took to the water in earnest for summer cruises alongside California Maritime Academy cadets, he visited ports in Corpus Christi, Ft. Lauderdale, and further abroad in Cork, Ireland; Falmouth, England; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Mexico; Peru; Chile, and more.

He remembers the Texas Clipper II for one iconic cruise, but he also went commercial and sailed aboard the now-familiar California Maritime Academy's T/S Golden Bear alongside a number of California cadets.

Even before graduating, Vechan had multiple job offers. He accepted a third mate position with SeaRiver Maritime, Inc., a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil. He went from Valdez, Alaska to the West Coast transporting huge loads of crude oil. Vechan estimates the ship would carry north of three million gallons of oil, the value of such a load equaling likely somewhere around $50 - 65 million of product.

The position worked well for Vechan, but he still found himself interested in broader opportunities. Thus, he went to work for U.S. Shipping Corp, now under Crowley Marine.

Since the move, he has ridden a tanker shipping grain from Houston to Darfur for the World Food Programme. He’s been through the Suez Canal and Panama Canal both ways, even moving up to a second mate title and obtaining his chief mate license.

But it still wasn’t quite the right fit for Vechan.

“I was only home two weeks and nine months, working 75-day on and off hitches. It was a lot. So I started thinking about what was next. I knew I couldn’t do it forever.”

Vechan started thinking about the most strategic ways in which to marry his maritime experience with his future goals. Was a captain’s license the optimal move for him at this point?

 “With a JD [juris doctor] or an MBA [master of business administration], your options are much broader. There are different opportunities out there, and the ceiling for potential earnings is higher,” Vechan says. "It was the right move for me."

So he contacted an old friend from his Aggie by the Sea days, a maritime law professor in the Department of Maritime Business Administration, Dr. Tom Fitzhugh.

Fitzhugh had practiced and taught admiralty law for years. He wrote Vechan a letter of recommendation for his law school applications and walked him through the process.

“Naturally, I studied for my LSAT [law school admission test] on a ship,” Vechan laughs.

He started at the University of Houston Law School in 2011, graduating in 2014. Afterward, he went to work for the New York-based firm Hill Rivkins LLP, a heavily maritime-centric practice.

“They were very interested in me because of my maritime background. I can look at a case from a different perspective and provide insight without them having to go to an expert.”

After a few years practicing law, Vechan says he stumbled upon the Texas A&M-Galveston job posting. The first time around was a no-go, as the university was really looking for someone with a dynamic positioning (DP) background, Vechan says. But he was tenacious, applying for a second time and landing the position.

Vechan is definitely the only Galveston Campus faculty member with an active U.S. Coast Guard Unlimited Tonnage Master’s license in conjunction with an active law license. In fact, he may be the only one in the nation who can make such a claim.

But his favorite claim, his ideal fit, might just still be on the sea.

“I really just enjoy being out on the water,” he says. Doesn’t matter what you’re loading, where you’re going. There’s something about the blackness of the night that comes and provides you with a view that you can’t have just about anywhere else.”


Media contact:
Andréa Bolt
Communications Specialist

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Texas A&M University at Galveston is the marine and maritime branch campus of Texas A&M University which educates nearly 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students in science, business, engineering, liberal arts and transportation. It is driving the development of the blue economy in the Gulf Coast Region and is a critical contributor to Texas A&M's rare land-, sea-, space-grant mission with nearly $10 million in research expenditures.

Texas A&M-Galveston is also home to the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of six state maritime academies and the only one in the southern United States, which trains over 400 cadets annually for maritime service and employment around the world.

Texas A&M-Galveston is located in Galveston, Texas on the Gulf Coast where it is surrounded by industry, environment and programs essential to fulfilling its special-purpose mission. Aggies are known for their deep commitment to the success of each other and their strong desire to serve.