Coast Guard academy welcomes first woman to its helm

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, left, accepts congratulations from her predecessor, Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, right, as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr., center, looks on, after Stosz assumed command of the Coast Guard Academy from Burhoe in a change of command ceremony, Friday, June 3, 2011, on the academy's Washington Parade Field in New London, Conn. Stosz is the 40th superintendent and first woman to lead the academy. (AP Photo/The Day, Sean D. Elliot)

HARTFORD, Conn. — One of the earliest female graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy returned Friday to take over its top spot, becoming the first woman selected to lead one of the nation’s five military service academies.

Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz was installed as the academy’s 40th superintendent in a change-of-command ceremony Friday on the New London campus. She graduated from the academy in 1982, the third class to include female cadets.

Stosz, a native of Takoma Park, Md., takes over at the Coast Guard Academy amid a push to draw more women and members of underrepresented minority groups into the cadet corps.

This fall’s incoming class has the most cultural and ethnic diversity in the academy’s history. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp, who presided over Friday’s change-of-command ceremony, said maintaining and expanding that diversity is key to the Coast Guard.

“That’s the priority I am going to give her,” Papp said of Stosz.

Stosz, 51, previously was the Coast Guard’s director of reserve and leadership and also commanded two cutters during her 12 years of experience at sea. They included an assignment as the first female commander of a U.S. icebreaker, the 140-foot Katmai Bay, in northern Michigan.

Stosz was a high school discus and swimming standout and a top scholar in her graduating class when she enrolled at the Coast Guard Academy in 1978, two years after it began admitting women. She said her return more than 33 years after her graduation is a sign of how far women have come in the service.

“We’ve come a long way and I’m proud to be a role model,” Stosz told The Associated Press on Thursday. “But this really is part of a natural progression.”

The academy has about 1,030 cadets in its four-year program. Students graduate with a bachelor of science degree and an obligation to serve five years in the Coast Guard. Many, like Stosz, make it their career.

“Personally, of course, I am very, very proud to be someone who is coming back as a role model,” Stosz said. “It means a lot to me that I am able to continue to contribute and give back. I’m able to now develop these leaders of character so that we have the outstanding men and women to replace me someday.”

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