SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor King Announce New Campus Leadership and Reinforce Commitment to SUNY Maritime’s Success as it Enters its Next Chapter

June 4, 2024

Rear Admiral John Okon to Lead as Maritime’s 12th President Following the Retirement of Dr. Michael Alfultis; Photos Are Available Here

SUNY Announces Pay It Forward Fund to Provide Support for SUNY Maritime Students Participating in the Summer Sea Term, A Requirement for U.S. Coast Guard Licenses

Bronx, NY – During a State University of New York Board of Trustees meeting today at SUNY Maritime College, SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor John B. King Jr. announced the appointment of Rear Admiral John Okon as the 12th campus president following the retirement of Rear Admiral Dr. Michael A. Alfultis after 10 years at the helm. Rear Admiral Okon’s appointment is effective July 1, 2024.

The SUNY Board of Trustees said, “SUNY is extremely proud to have the country’s oldest public maritime college as one of the System’s jewels, and to ensure this esteemed campus seamlessly serves our nation and state, as well as future generations of students, we are pleased to approve the appointment of Rear Admiral John Okon as its next president.”

“As a SUNY Maritime alumnus, Rear Admiral Okon has a great perspective on the student experience and how we can move forward to encourage and support more students to pursue careers in the maritime industry,” said SUNY Chancellor King. “At the same time, his extensive background in the U.S. Navy in support of intelligence, technology, meteorology, and oceanography, will help guide SUNY Maritime as it builds on its academic programs to ensure SUNY students are well positioned to succeed after graduation.”

Chancellor King also announced plans for the SUNY Maritime Pay It Forward Fund to provide financial assistance and supportive services to cadets participating in the campus’s Summer Sea Term. SUNY Maritime provides extraordinary value and is a model of student success and upward mobility. However, the Summer Sea Term, a requirement for U.S. Coast Guard licenses that can cost about $30,000 per student over three summers—even after financial aid—is a major recruitment challenge for the school, and a significant financial challenge for many students from low-income backgrounds. The program is expected to benefit more than 250 students over seven years using a recycling loan fund structure that will serve more students than a traditional scholarship program.

The announcement to mitigate this financial barrier was made as the Empire State VII prepares to set sail later this week with nearly 500 cadets, faculty, and staff to begin this year’s summer term.

“SUNY Maritime graduates enter the workforce with high-paying jobs that are critical for the health of the global economy, which is reliant on shipping for 90% of goods transported internationally. However, the preparation needed to pursue this field is too costly for too many students from low-income backgrounds,” said Chancellor King. “Through the Pay It Forward Fund, SUNY can break down that cost barrier, and in doing so, bolster enrollment, student success, and upward mobility for students interested in the maritime industry.”

The SUNY Board of Trustees said, “Each summer about 500 SUNY Maritime cadets embark on an exciting and at times arduous journey to gain the direct experience operating a state-of-the-art training vessel that will lead them to successful, high paying careers after graduation. As an institution of public higher education, SUNY is committed to increasing student success across the system and this fund will do just that for the Regiment of Cadets at SUNY Maritime by removing cost barriers that can prohibit students from low-income backgrounds from participating in this incredible program.”

About Rear Admiral John Okon

Rear Admiral John Okon is a naval officer of the United States Navy with more than 33 years of naval service. Rear Admiral Okon became vice commander of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command’s Tenth Fleet in 2023. His responsibilities include operating and defending navy networks, providing tailored signals intelligence, delivering cyber electronic warfare, and providing training and certified cyber teams.

He has directed funding, maintenance, and research to support U.S. Navy and Marine Corps intelligence, cryptology, electronic warfare, information technology, meteorology, oceanography, precise time, astrometry, long-range targeting, and manpower. He is also responsible for being the Navy’s chief strategist for a community of 1400 military officers and for multi-year planning of accessions, promotions, career progression, training, education, and talent management.

Rear Admiral Okon previously served as the director of information warfare integration for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations from 2021 to 2023, and from 2017 to 2021, he was the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Meteorology and Oceanography Command. During that time, he served additional roles as oceanographer of the Navy and naval deputy to the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rear Admiral Okon received his Master of Arts in national security studies from the U.S. Naval War College, Master of Science in meteorology and oceanography from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and his bachelor's degree in meteorology and oceanography from SUNY Maritime College.

SUNY Maritime College Council Chair Tom Higgins said, “Congratulations to Rear Admiral John Okon, Maritime College Class of 1991, on his appointment as the 12th President of Maritime College. We are excited to have John return to Maritime College after more than 30 years of service in the US Navy. The College Council looks forward to working with Admiral Okon and thanks RADM Michael Alfultis and Kim Alfultis for their decade of dedication and service to SUNY Maritime College."

RADM Michael Alfultis said, “I am honored to have served Maritime College as President for the past 10 years. I know Rear Admiral Okon will build on the successes of Maritime College and take advantage of future opportunities. Kim and I join the Maritime College community in welcoming John and Valerie and wish them all the best.”

Rear Admiral Okon said, “This is an outstanding opportunity, and I am thankful to the SUNY Board of Trustees, Chancellor King, College Council Chair Thomas J. Higgins, and the search committee for their confidence in my appointment. As an alum of this prestigious maritime campus, I am excitement about the new resources dedicated from the federal and state government, and for Chancellor King’s commitment to our students’ success through the Pay It Forward program. I can’t wait to lead SUNY Maritime College as it enters its next chapter.”

About the Pay It Forward Fund

The Pay It Forward Fund aims to fill maritime workforce gaps, increase access to economic mobility, and support a diverse student body and workforce. The Pay It Forward program intends to be funded through a combination of support from SUNY at $4 million, and $1 million from private donations through the SUNY Impact Foundation and corporate partnerships. SUNY plans to develop the Fund in partnership with Social Finance, a national nonprofit and registered investment advisor that designs innovative workforce financing initiatives. Social Finance designs, structures, and manages similar Pay It Forward models in states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Colorado, and across the nation with the Google Career Certificates Fund and other funds that finance careers in sectors like climate and health care.

Under the Pay It Forward model, public and philanthropic funds are used to support education and training and supportive services for learners. After training, learners who land jobs earning above a certain income threshold repay outcomes-based loans, or an employer may repay on their behalf. Then, learner and employer repayments are “paid forward” to support the next cohort of learners, extending the impact of each dollar invested in the Fund and broadening the maritime talent pipeline.

Social Finance CEO and Co-Founder Tracy Palandjian said, “Social Finance is excited to partner with SUNY Maritime College to bring this innovative financing model to learners pursuing maritime careers, building on our experience developing Pay It Forward funds around the country. This program aims to serve at least 50% more learners than traditional one-time scholarships, which will meaningfully address the industry’s worker shortage while creating economic opportunities for learners."

The Summer Sea Term at SUNY Maritime College enables students to gain hands-on, practical experience working on, sailing, and powering a marine vessel. It is required for students pursuing their U.S. Coast Guard licenses, which open the door to more and often higher-paying employment opportunities. As part of the program, cadets must accrue at least 180 days at sea before they graduate. Time is earned during summer sea term journeys after freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Through summer sea term, cadets travel around the world gaining vital hands-on experience in operating a ship and managing port traffic.

In September 2023, SUNY Maritime College welcomed its newest training vessel, the Empire State VII. The Empire State VII is the first ship of five National Security Multi-mission Vessels (NSMVs) to be built for and owned by the Federal Government and provided to the State Maritime Academies to operate as training ships for cadets. As multi-mission ships, they are also available to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. The state-of-the-art training ship features numerous instructional spaces, a full training bridge, and accommodations for up to 600 cadets to train in maritime academic environments at sea.

About SUNY Maritime College

SUNY Maritime College is the first of seven maritime academies in the United States. The College educates dynamic leaders for the global maritime transportation industry, shipping business, engineering, energy, facilities management, finance, the armed forces, and public service. Students choose from 11 undergraduate majors, including five ABET-accredited engineering programs and two master's degree programs. In addition to a college degree, students can earn a Deck or Engine merchant mariner license. The license program prepares students to navigate, operate and manage ships. There are 17 varsity athletic teams and more than 40 clubs and organizations available to students

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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