"Reaching Back"

Friday, October 2, 2009

Alumni Partner with SC State University's Career Center to Offer the United States Coast Guard's College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative

US Coast Guard
SC State University alumni Pride L. Sanders and Christy Rutherford were ecstatic when they signed up for the United States Coast Guard, but upon graduation, fear seeped in and made them question their motives. Why did we do this? What did we get ourselves into? These were questions that ran amuck in the minds of Sanders and Rutherford.

Rutherford recalls her reason for enrolling in the U.S. Coast Guard while attending SC State University. The incentive, her friend’s car. Rutherford’s friend had just returned from the U.S. Coast Guard boot camp and bought a new car with her salary. “I remember saying, ‘I want to be just like that’,” recalled Rutherford. Now a congressional fellow on the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, one may venture to say that Rutherford has exceeded her own expectations, and has gone far beyond just admiring a shiny, new car.

Rutherford, a 1998 graduate of SC State and lieutenant commander, has conducted counter drug patrols in the Caribbean, capturing drug smugglers intending to transfer these illegal goods into the U.S., coordinated and responded to Maritime emergencies, responded to Hurricane Katrina, and ensured port safety and security in Houston.

At 22, Rutherford’s first assignment in the U.S. Coast Guard was on a cutter ship, defined as any Coast Guard vessel over 65-feet in length. “This job taught me multi-tasking, delegating, being a leader, and empowerment,” says Rutherford. “We were empowered to make decisions at a young age.”

Currently as a subcommittee member, Rutherford is heavily involved in hearings on piracy, U.S. Coast Guard, drug, and migrant interdictions and mariner education.

Sanders’ job is equally significant. Also a 1998 graduate of SC State, Sanders is currently a lieutenant commander for the U.S. Coast Guard with a focus on counternarcotics and counter narcoterrorism at the Pentagon. Previously, Sanders served as the commanding officer of a 110 foot patrol boat based out of Miami, Florida. He is one of the few, if not the only graduate from an HBCU to command a Coast Guard cutter.

While things were initially questionable upon entering the U.S. Coast Guard, Sanders says that this fear dissipated and was instead replaced by leadership. He encourages all students to lead. “Become leaders of the school while you’re here,” says Sanders. “What are you doing for the University as a leader?” he asked.

Leadership is exemplified in the U.S. Coast Guard, and both Rutherford and Sanders are diligently working on obtaining leaders from their alma mater, SC State University. The number of minority officers in the U.S. Coast Guard is low, but there are scholarship opportunities available that will encourage students to enroll in this significant organization, one reason why Sanders and Rutherford have encouraged the U.S. Coast Guard to partner with HBCU’s such as SC State.

Joseph Thomas, interim director of the Career Center, is elated when he sees alumni striving to help their institution thrive. “You want former students reaching out and reaching back to their beloved University,” says Thomas.

While recruitment is not Rutherford and Sanders’ mission, it’s difficult to ignore the positive attributes of entering the U.S. Coast Guard, including a starting salary of approximately $40,000, and a retirement plan that could gain you up to $55,000 a year upon retirement around the age of 40.

“We’re not here as recruiters,” says Rutherford. “We’re here as students from SC State, and we want to give people the opportunities that we had. This is something we strongly believe in,” she continued.

Ironically, just as Rutherford envisioned a life that mimicked her friend’s, you too can start on a path-way to success. Through the U.S. Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI), you will receive up to $2,200 per month while attending school, up to two years of paid tuition, fees, and books, paid medical and dental insurance, 30 days paid annual vacation and more. After college graduation and completion of Officer Candidate School, you will also become a commissioned officer and receive valuable U.S. Coast Guard training.

Some eligibility requirements include maintaining a grade point average of 2.5 or better, completion of your bachelor’s degree within 24 months after entry in the program, a score of 1,000 on the SAT, 1100 on the SAT I, 23 on the ACT, or ASVAB GT of 109 or higher, and be a U.S. citizen.

Of the U.S. Coast Guard’s CSPI program, Sanders says, “it was the foundation of why I am successful today. It taught me how to make decisions fast. It taught me more responsibility.” What’s even better, noted Sanders, “is that after you’re selected, there’s nothing like knowing you’ll have a job when you graduate.”

For more information on CSPI, including a full list of eligibility requirements, contact your local recruiter, Charles W. Cunningham, at (803) 699-7230. You may also contact the Career Center at (803) 536-7033.