Coast Guard Commandant speaks to West Side STEM Middle School students

Groton — Admiral Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the United States Coast Guard, told West Side STEM Middle School students Thursday that he's leaned back on his science, technology, engineering and mathematics education over his 36-year career.

Schultz, a 1983 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy with a degree in civil engineering, said his education has enabled him to look at a difficult problem and think through it logically.

"You're off to a great start," he told the students at West Side, which became an intradistrict STEM magnet school this year. "If you're on the STEM track here, my hat is off to you, because this will open up all kinds of opportunities for you."

Schultz addressed the students during an all-school assembly Thursday afternoon after speaking at the change of command ceremony at the Coast Guard Academy earlier in the day. He spoke to students about the mission of the Coast Guard, the importance of STEM education and lifelong learning, and the need to have more women — who currently represent about 15 percent of the workforce in the Coast Guard — and minorities in the Coast Guard.

“We’re a better Coast Guard when we have people from all different cultures, because you know what people from different cultures and backgrounds bring? They bring different experiences, they bring different thinking," he said, leading to better, more sophisticated answers to problems.

Noting the diversity in the Coast Guard Academy's Class of 2019, he said the Coast Guard needs to build on these success stories and he hopes West Side students would consider careers in the service.

"At a very diverse school like this, I would love to see some of you guys here as middle schoolers think about possibilities of joining the Coast Guard," he said.

Students asked him questions, including about his badges, his future goals, how to encourage more women to actively serve in the Coast Guard and the challenges of his job.

He noted that having to move his family around frequently was one of the challenges he faced, and he gave a "hats off" to all the military families. Schultz and his wife, Dawn, who also attended the event, have five children.

Ernie Manfred, who was Schultz's Coast Guard Academy math professor, and Ray Cieplik, Schultz's former soccer coach, spoke about him during the event.

Cieplik told students that Schultz came from a background similar to theirs. He graduated from the public school system in East Hartford and worked hard, played sports and was involved in activities, which made him an attractive candidate for the Coast Guard Academy.

His STEM courses and sports helped develop him as a person and as a leader, and he learned self-discipline, how to work hard, how to get along with others, and perseverance, Cieplik said.

Erica Watson, seventh grade science and STEM teacher at West Side who was honored with the K-12 Promotion of Education award at the 2015 Black Engineer of the Year Awards STEM Conference, had invited Schultz to speak at West Side. Watson, whose father became the first black nuclear submarine admiral, said she invited Schultz to the school after she was impressed by hearing him speak at a BEYA event that recognized African American leaders in the military.

Watson said she wanted students to take away that: "They all have leadership potential just like he does, no matter what field they go into."

k.drelich@theday.com

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