Meet the Pilot Series: Mikayla Monroe

August 5, 2020

We simply couldn’t convince this determined intern to stop working—nor did we want her to. Mikayla Monroe always found tasks to complete in the shop, shadowed Submersible Pilots, Electricians, and Engineers to expand her knowledge, and gradually began serving other departments, creating Expedition Field Guides through marketing and working the booth at outreach events. If she already finished her tasks, she would pick up a broom and start cleaning. “I’m here to work,” she would say. “What can I help with next?” Months later we found out that throughout her childhood, one of her family’s mottos was, “You don’t work, you don’t eat!” Though it may sound harsh, “I promise we never missed a meal,” Monroe reassures with a smile.

Mikayla Monroe: Submersible Co-Pilot

Monroe’s self-starter work ethic and positive attitude made her stand out during her first summer as one of our Program Interns. She was driven to work with people and help them accomplish their goals.

OceanGate and Monroe were first introduced thanks to Ardi Kveven, the Executive Director and Founder of the Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA). The college headquarters are just upstairs from OceanGate’s office at the Port of Everett. Since that April of 2015, Monroe returned to OceanGate as a Program Intern for a total of four summers and a school year before graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) and Business Analytics. Monroe’s Submersible Pilot training began the week after graduating from WWU. She now works full-time as a Data Analyst and Submersible Co-Pilot, while also aiding in Sales and Marketing and continues to lead outreach events.

One of the requirements of OceanGate Submersible Pilots is to launch and land our Cyclops-class submersibles onto the underwater platform. When asked if she was nervous before her first landing, Monroe responded, “My first time landing Cyclops 1 was more exciting than anything else and, ironically, one of the top three landings I’ve done so far.” The crew had amazing encounters with dogfish sharks and Red Stripe Rockfish throughout the dive and “I wanted it to end well,” enthuses Monroe. “Fortunately, we had great weather and very little current or wind. As I had hoped, the landing process went smoothly and I was successful on my very first attempt. It certainly wouldn’t have gone as well without Kenneth coaching me, which I really appreciate.”

Monroe’s favorite part about piloting is “the interconnection of so many disciplines: water chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, technology, marine life, and people--the people and marine life are the best parts. That, and getting to explore another world.” Her knowledge of aquatic animals from her time as a High School Volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium has greatly assisted in identifying creatures seen during dives in the Salish Sea.

Monroe examining sonar at the MT6 Wreck site in Elliot Bay, Seattle. Photo courtesy of Margo Newcombe at Teledyne Marine.

One of Monroe’s passions is volunteering in the community and actively encouraging women in STEM. She even got matching Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!’ patches for the women of OceanGate. Monroe has led workshops for the Expanding Your Horizons Conference, Discover E Day at the Naval Undersea Museum, Annie Crawley’s Scuba Diving Club, and Career Days at local schools. For this year’s Expanding Your Horizons Conference hosted by Edmonds College, Monroe was honored to be the Keynote Speaker. Since high school she has been actively involved with beach cleanups and habitat restorations with the Washington CoastSavers, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Sound Salmon Solutions, and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association. To foster our team’s energy and active lifestyles, she even started a running club for OceanGate employees called Sub Par Running Club. Fun fact: her recent haircut will be donated to Matter of Trust to clean oil spills!

When asked about her most memorable dive to date, Monroe says, “Honestly it is difficult to pick one dive. There was the time we stumbled upon a beautiful Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, my first shipwreck dive on the MT6 wreck in Elliot Bay or the Al-Ind-Esk-A-Sea in Everett, or when we saw a feisty dogfish ram into the bait cage.

But if I had to pick, one dive that remains etched in my head from start to finish was my Level 1 qualifying dive. It was the first time I would conduct all pilot tasks by myself. If I did well, I would be certified as a Level 1 Pilot. This also happened to be the dive when Alan Boyle and Kevin Lisota joined us from GeekWire to write an article—no pressure.
Overall, the dive went well. Afterwards I became a Level 1 Pilot, meaning certified to Co-Pilot Cyclops. When I look at a picture of myself from the GeekWire article, I see how stoic and serious I was that day. As always when piloting, I wore no makeup or jewelry—only a handmade bracelet from my sister—and had my hair pulled back in a ponytail. I never want jewelry getting caught or curly blonde hair blocking my line of sight. I wanted to prove my skills as a pilot and wasn’t going to let anything get in my way.

Keep up with Mikayla and the OceanGate crew by following us on social media and signing up for our newsletter. Check out future expeditions at oceangateexpeditions.com/future.

  • Mikayla piloting Cyclops 1.