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My Coast Guard
Commentary | March 4, 2022

A new, future-focused model for CGA's academic program

By Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, Coast Guard Academy External Affairs

With its towering oaks, brick facades and federalist columns, first time visitors are often captivated by the charming grounds of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. While “charming” may aptly describe a small New England college campus, it’s not the adjective that captures the vigor of this military service academy’s academic program.

Enter Dr. Amy Donahue, the first provost of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, who has set forth on the most significant academic restructuring since the 1950s to ensure the Academy excels among other institutes of higher learning, including other military service academies. Guided by the Coast Guard’s Strategic Vision for the Coast Guard Academy 2018-2023 and Donahue, a former Army officer who previously served as the University of Connecticut’s vice provost for academic operations, the modernization effort will not only position the Academy to respond effectively to broader service priorities but also ensure future officers are prepared to handle the increasingly complex global challenges the Coast Guard faces.

This transformation creates three schools: The School of Engineering and Cyber Systems; The School of Science, Mathematics, and the Humanities; and The School of Leadership and Management. Notably, it also returns the Professional Maritime Studies program to the Academic Division as the Nautical Science Department, giving full support to its rigorous course of study as an integral part of the Academy’s core academic program while maintaining its close ties to the Cadet Division’s leadership development program.

In addition, a Vice Provost for Research has also been appointed to leverage the Academy’s faculty as a powerful intellectual community to create, share and apply new knowledge to help solve the challenges the service confronts.

In some ways, these organizational changes reflect decades-long practices across higher education, and Donahue admits they are not “…immediately momentous.” The current course offerings and academic programs will continue. “But,” Donahue explains, “these changes will improve our efficiency, make better use of our resources and create opportunities to build innovative new programs to keep pace with the competitive environment in which we operate.”

This modernization effort will yield long term benefits as it lays the foundation to harness the collective power of the Academy and ensure it is ready to meet current and future capability needs of the service. However, it’s fair to ask how the changes to the management of an academic program can accomplish such lofty goals for the entire service.

When one considers the technology in their own home or in the palm of their hand, any observer can readily note how radically different today’s operating environment is compared to just a decade ago. As Donahue points out, “The challenges of the Coast Guard’s operating environment have intensified the need for officers grounded in a technical education but versatile in broad interdisciplinary domains such as cyber systems, data analytics and emergency management.”

The current academic configuration, with five departments that operated largely independently from one another, is not designed to support the interdisciplinary approach the Academy needs to meet the needs of the service. More than just a reconfiguration, this adaptation will drive a culture change towards collaborative work across programs and harness new synergies. In addition, this new structure helps drive organizational decision making down to the school level, allowing Deans to respond to changing needs and conditions by adjusting their programs and curricula. This allows the Provost to engage at a strategic level to ensure the full suite of teaching and scholarly efforts fulfill the service’s imperative to deliver fleet-ready officers.

Preparing the future leaders of the Coast Guard requires a world-class faculty – this workforce is in high demand. Donahue notes, “Solutions to today’s complex problems depend on human capital, the competition for which is intense and getting more so.”

Innovative faculty have moved beyond the narrow academic fields and traditional lecture-based instruction modes.  These instructors, including the faculty at the Coast Guard Academy, seek institutions that encourage new and varied approaches to teaching and learning, employ cutting-edge technologies and environments that prize creativity, flexibility, inclusivity and diversity. Significant advances have been made in the field of education; to recruit and retain a world-class faculty, the Academy must keep pace with these changes to become an employer of choice in a highly competitive market and retain the talented faculty it has now.

A high-caliber faculty is also vital to attract the best possible candidates to become the future leaders of the Coast Guard. As Donahue explains about prospective cadets, “They scrutinize college opportunities closely, evaluating schools based on the quality of living and learning facilities, the support and services institutions provide, the faculty they will work with and whether they will get opportunities to do meaningful work that makes a difference in the world while they are still in school.”

Any Coast Guard member can speak directly to the meaningful work the service accomplishes daily, but the new school-based structure will help create communities of cadets involved in an academic program that is clearly linked the to the broad variety of career opportunities in the Coast Guard.

This modernization effort was driven by the service’s strategic vision for the Academy and is ultimately designed to meet the needs of the operational Coast Guard.  Donahue remarks, “The reason to transform the Academic Division is not because it is broken or failing, but because it has potential to be more and do more for the service than it currently does.”

While this modernization effort represents a significant step forward for the academic program, the Academy’s mission remains the same. “The Academy remains committed to building leaders of character through its intentional combination of training, mentoring, education and maritime opportunities,” said Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “By modernizing our academic organization, we will continue to deliver a world-class educational program designed to inspire personal and professional growth within these future leaders. We will ensure our service remains ready to meet the complex challenges of tomorrow and we will remain Semper Paratus.”