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Foundations & Other Philanthropies

Egan Maritime Institute

Egan Maritime Institute


The culture on Nantucket has changed dramatically. Once world leaders in maritime trades, the small island has lost its connection to the sea. Residents of Nantucket used to design and build the most technically advanced ships circumnavigating the globe. Today, most boats have to be serviced off-island. Many locals don’t even know how to sail. Even fewer are familiar with maritime issues.

Egan Maritime Institute (EMI) was founded as an operating foundation in 1989 to collect and study the art, history, and architecture of Nantucket. When the founders passed, the Foundation suddenly had a $16 million endowment. Egan Maritime was about to become a major player on the island. The founders’ heir, Bob Egan, hired The Philanthropic Initiative to help the organization define its focus.


Learning that the majority of board members were new, we organized and facilitated a retreat to better acquaint everyone. We guided the group through a process that resulted in a new mission statement: to advance the appreciation, documentation and preservation of the island and its history. This newfound mission inspired the board to renovate Nantucket’s Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum to better celebrate the island’s unique heritage.

When the museum was completed, EMI was eager to do something even more relevant to the community. The board conducted a needs survey, which provided a vague idea of what the general public wanted: programs to serve Nantucket’s children. Again, Egan Maritime Institute enlisted our help.

EMI’s board didn’t know how the Foundation could play a role in supporting the island’s children. We examined their survey data and helped the board create a program that would reflect the mission of the Foundation while making a difference for Nantucket’s children. The result was the Sea of Opportunities program.

“It’s a first on Nantucket that a non-profit has gone into all three schools and said we would like to offer a course on maritime history. We were able to break into all three schools, and that’s never been done before.” – Eric Holch, Trustee, Egan Maritime Institute


Sea of Opportunities (SOO) impacted 1,500 of nearly 2,200 children on the island in its first year with the potential to affect future generations. SOO exposes young people to maritime traditions, trades and sciences, and supports them in the pursuit of their interests through programs for middle schoolers, maritime career fairs, and additional supports and scholarships. By partnering with Nantucket Community Sailing, Nantucket’s public school, and the island’s two private schools, and hiring a creative educator to design the curriculum and work in the classrooms, Egan Maritime Institute took an intangible idea and made an impact.

Matt Liddle, head of Nantucket New School, describes the middle school program as unique, pertinent to residents, and a great fit for the school’s experiential approach to teaching and learning. “Many of the high interest topics in this program are project-based, perfect for the attention span of a sixth grader,” he reports. “Parents are pleased. Students love the program. I would love to integrate it further into the existing curriculum.”

Matt goes on, “I think it is imperative to expose our island’s young adults to the opportunities that do exist in the world of maritime vocation and studies.” With TPI’s help, Egan Maritime Institute is doing just that.