'Most proud' of diversity efforts, Coast Guard Academy head bids farewell

New London — Departing Coast Guard Academy head Rear Adm. James E. Rendon said he'll miss the simple aspects of his job, such as the 366 steps from his home to his office and his morning run around campus.

But he'll also miss the more complex facets, such as leading efforts to make the academy more diverse and inclusive — the work that he is "most proud of," he said.

"The road has been challenging. There has been some doubt. There have been missteps. There has been conflict, but we are making progress," Rendon said, wearing full dress whites, an array of medals hanging from his chest. "There is more to do but we are well on our way."

Rear Adm. William G. Kelly, 54, a 1987 academy graduate, took over for Rendon as superintendent of the academy in a change of command ceremony held Thursday morning at Leamy Hall.

Rendon, 58, a 1983 academy graduate, is retiring after serving 36 years in the Coast Guard, and plans to return to his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

He joked, at the start of his remarks, that he wanted to get something off his chest and went on to describe how he was bothered by all the attention his wife, Felicitas, has received in recent weeks. She even made it into his superintendent portrait, he said to laughs.

Speaking of the diversity efforts under his tenure, Rendon said in the last four years, the academy has welcomed a record number of women, increased the number of international students from 10 to 30, and graduated the largest number of African Americans and Asian Americans in 2018 and 2019, respectively, he said.

Acknowledging that the academy has faced scrutiny regarding its diversity and inclusion efforts, Rendon said "we welcome constructive, honest feedback." The academy has been criticized for its handling of discrimination allegations, which Congress and the Department of Homeland Security inspector general are both investigating, and there have been reports of bullying and discriminatory behavior against minority cadets.

Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz said in addition to diversity work, some of Rendon's achievements as superintendent include establishing "proactive and unique" programs to combat sexual assault, facilitating a pathway to a new cyber systems major — the first new major at the academy in more than 25 years — and initiating and overseeing the first equity assessment undertaken by a service academy.

"Focused on continual improvement here at the academy, Jim Rendon has set the course for success, the first steps in a dedicated campaign to identify barriers to inclusion and solutions that challenge the status quo," Schultz said.

As for Kelly, who most recently served as the chief of human resources for the Coast Guard, Schultz said he is "one of the Coast Guard's leading experts on training, mentoring, human resources, and personnel support."

Kelly said he would continue efforts to make the academy "a center of excellence for inclusion and equity mindedness," to eradicate the "scourge" of sexual assault, and explore new ways of doing business.

Kelly is no stranger to the academy. He served as head of the Leadership Development Center and as the school chief for the Coast Guard's Officer Candidate School, both on campus. He met his wife, Angie, while he was a cadet, and his son Patrick is a 2014 academy graduate.

"Today, Angie, Patrick, Tyler and I are coming home to the place we love," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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