Tampa Bay Coast Guard Auxiliary Helps Set Students Up For Success

Since 2007, a special opportunity within the United States Coast Guard has helped pave the way for college students to serve their country. 

What You Need To Know

  • The U.S. Coast Guard is creating a new University Program in Tampa Bay

  • The program will help students lead in the service, but also learn more about the world around them

  • The program currently includes roughly 170 students around the country

For the first time, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program is setting up a new unit in the Tampa Bay Area.

“I think a lot of students need to think of this as a longer term opportunity. They have their undergrad degree, they can then commission as an officer, get real world leadership experience, go for an advanced degree that’s paid for by the government,” branch chief of development for the Auxiliary University Programs Russell Gasdia told Spectrum News.

Spectrum News caught up with program participant and University of Tampa student Amber Porter as she headed out onto the water for a lesson with Auxiliary member Tony Novellino, and the team.

“You can’t minimize the amount of opportunity there is in the Coast Guard, and the Auxiliary, for training for specific work assignments,” Novellino said. 

For the past year and a half, in addition to her regular studies, Porter and 170 other students from across the country have been meeting virtually once a week as part of the Auxiliary’s University Program Remote Collaborative Unit.

“I think it’s been a really great opportunity,” Porter said. “I was really interested in going into the Coast Guard, but I also wanted to pursue my degree — I wanted to get the whole college experience.”

As the Auxiliary works to set up a unit at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, Porter said she is excited to help by sharing her story.

“My brother-in-law is a Navy helo (helicopter) pilot, my father was a former cop, and both of my grandparents served in the military,” she said.

Porter is a marine science biology major with a minor in environmental science and chemistry. 

It may not be the type of career that comes to mind when you think of the Coast Guard, but Porter said the jobs exist and some are even in very high demand.

“With atmospheric and oceanic convergences, it’s been really cool to learn how everything works together and also just seeing that in the field coming out and being on the water,” she said. “It’s really cool to put those things together.”

If accepted, next summer she will be heading to the 17-week Officer Candidate School (OCS). 

Once she is commissioned as an officer and begins service, Porter wants to eventually pursue a master’s degree in physical oceanography.

“I’m excited for what’s ahead and I’m excited to see where can I go a year from now,” Porter said. “Life changes fast, so you never know.”

As she tells other students about the program, she wants them to know that while the online remote collaborative has served her well, having a home base in St. Pete is a game changer.

“A lot of people just don’t know about the Auxiliary and it’s a great way to meet with people — connect with students, especially my age, and it’s an awesome opportunity to meet them,” she said.

The program at USF St. Pete will be one of 14 others being offered on campuses across the country.

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