Corps of Cadets

Corps Commander Summits Campus Leadership


Eager to start his freshman year at Texas A&M University at Galveston the following fall, on March 8, 2020, Gunnar Pierson ’24 was in his home state of Georgia, ready to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, it is the longest hiking-only trail in the world. Pierson’s starting point was just south of Springer Mountain. 

Shortly after he started the hike, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Undeterred, Pierson continued along the trail, but the lack of services available added additional time and miles to the already challenging journey. 

Soon after he reached Connecticut, with about 700 miles still to go, Pierson broke his ankle. 

Without knowing the extent of the injury, Pierson was determined to complete the trail and continued on with a 26-mile day the next day. The day after that, he was only able to complete 8 miles, so he decided to go off-trail to a nearby town to get some rest. Thinking it was tendonitis, he took a short reprieve from hiking but soon began again, walking with a staff for several weeks while his ankle continued to heal on its own. After he finished the trail, he sought medical care, at which point the break was evident but nearly healed.  

With the delays caused first by the onset of COVID and then by his broken ankle, Pierson had to choose: attending O-Week, which was mandatory for his academic path, or completing the Appalachian Trail. After weighing his options, Pierson decided to email Colonel Michael Fossum, Vice President of Texas A&M University, Chief Operating Officer of the Galveston Campus and the Superintendent of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, seeking permission to be absent from O-Week. 

Pierson wrote, “If I am granted the extension to finish my hike, I would work harder than anyone else on campus to make up for what I have missed.”

The request was bold, but Fossum agreed to allow Pierson to miss O-Week. 

Pierson threw himself into his studies, developing his leadership skills and earning several titles through his dedication to the Maritime Academy and the university as a whole as he carried out his part of the agreement. 

In the summer of 2022, Pierson received a commercial sea term billet, working with Norwegian Cruise Line on Pride of America, sailing an inter-island tour of Hawaii. 

“I had an incredible amount of fun, and it gave me a true experience of what the industry will be like when I’m out in it,” said Pierson. “It was great to be able to talk with people doing exactly what I want to do outside of the classroom environment. It really solidified that I’m doing what I love.” 

By May of 2023, Pierson was Summer Sea Term Commander during a historic sea term: students from California Maritime Academy, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Maine Maritime Academy and State University of New York Maritime College joined the Texas A&M Maritime Academy on the TS Kennedy . In this role, Pierson worked closely with faculty, staff and professional crew, giving him insight into the ship’s operations. Charged with ensuring that all of the student operations on the ship ran smoothly, Pierson knew this experience would test his leadership abilities, though he took it in stride.

“I was tasked with integrating the leadership from SUNY, which made up a bulk of the non-A&M students, into our own,” said Pierson. “With cadets from so many different academies all sailing with us, the leadership team and I had to find a way for all of us to work together to benefit all of the cadets on the vessel.” 

Presented with this challenge, Pierson said that figuring out how to lead an entirely new culture of cadets took a concerted effort between the universities’ student leadership. Eventually, leadership found functional and beneficial ways to work with both sets of cadets, as well as the cadets from Maine, Massachusetts and California.

After 71 days at sea, the cadets disembarked in Galveston in August with a successful summer sea term behind them. 

Commandant James Gompper praised Pierson’s leadership. “Gunnar has brought an impressive level of energy and focused leadership to the Corps this year,” he said. “He and his staff have brought this organization to new heights of professionalism, seamanship and leadership!”

Now Corps Commander, Pierson’s leadership is not driven by a promise to be involved, but by his desire to serve his community. He jokes that he spends much of his time “fighting fires” as the student at the top of the chain of command for the Corps of Cadets, though he says that every decision he makes is collaborative with the cadet leadership team. 

“The leadership team and I are always identifying what pushes us toward or away from our goals as an organization,” Pierson said. “I have a passion for making this place better, and in this position, I get a first-hand look at other cadets’ attitudes, in company leadership’s attitudes and in seeing the amazing growth that we’ve accomplished.” 

After graduation, the marine engineering technology major hopes to eventually work his way up to chief engineer, joining the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the nation’s oldest operating maritime union, along the way. 

With some distance between his ill-fated O-Week and now, Pierson laughs about typing the email up in the notes section of his phone. By all accounts, he has fulfilled his original promise.

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Tayor Bounds