Corps of Cadets

Katie Mazzola

During summer 2015, cadet Katie Mazzola interned with the Coast Guard in Southwest Harbor, Maine, where she had the opportunity to shadow the Aids to Navigation Team of Southwest Harbor and to visit the Moose Peak Lighthouse on Mistake Island.

At the helm

by Shay Barnhart

A senior with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is at the helm of the national U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary University Programs this academic year.

Katie Mazzola, of Mendham, New Jersey, who is majoring in political science, oversees 22 university programs across the country. Her duties include maintaining the auxiliary's academic standards, coordinating professional development programs, and creating new training courses.

Leadership development is a key component of the program.

"No matter what you do in life, whether you're going into the military or the private and public sectors, it's up to you to be a good leader. Development of that [trait] is huge, and learning through experiences is the best way to do that," Mazzola said.

The recipient of a corps Emerging Leader Scholarship, Mazzola quickly found her calling after joining the auxiliary in 2014 at the urging of a friend who served in the Coast Guard. She said that she hopes to commission with the Coast Guard after graduation and eventually put her political science degree to work.

Established in 2007 at Auburn University, The Citadel, and The College of William & Mary, the Auxiliary University Programs are student-run organizations that take the place of a formal ROTC program. Virginia Tech's unit serves Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 83, based at Claytor Lake, through a partnership with the Corps of Cadets. Students do not have to be enrolled in the corps to join the unit.

Although Virginia Tech's program was established in 2010, it took a few years to gain traction, said Lt. Col. Don Russell, deputy commandant of cadets for the VPI Citizen-Leader Track. The unit has since grown to be one of the largest among the 22 detachments, "thanks in large part to motivated cadets who aspire to lead," Russell said.

Today, more than 200 students participate in the Auxiliary University Programs, about 16 of whom are enrolled at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech's unit meets weekly to review Coast Guard coursework and to take boating classes. Students also help Flotilla 83 members with safety training, boat inspections, and other tasks.

"Many of them have spent time in one of the military branches, so it's fun picking their brains about what [service] was like," Mazzola said. "[Their participation] furthers our knowledge of the military overall, and many of them have spent a decade of their time in the Coast Guard auxiliary, as well."

Gary Eifried, the human relations officer for Flotilla 83, said Mazzola works tirelessly to foster the goals of the program.

"She has recruited eight new members into the unit this year alone and works diligently to get them trained and contributing to the program," Eifried said. "Always responsive to the needs of the program, she has an engaging manner and demonstrates excellent leadership qualities."

Shay Barnhart is the corps' communications director.