SC State University and the U.S. Coast Guard have formed a partnership that allows students to transition into the branch and commission as officers. SC State President James E. Clark and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Todd Sokalzuk signed a Memorandum of Agreement on Tuesday, Nov. 5, officially solidifying SC State’s participation in the Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) scholarship program. U.S. Coast Guard recruiter, Chief Jeremy Turk, will have office hours on campus to assist students with the recruitment process.
According to the Coast Guard’s website, “students who are accepted into the scholarship program will be enlisted into the U.S. Coast Guard, complete basic training during the summer and receive full funding for up to two years of college. Funding includes not only payment of tuition, books and fees, but a full-time Coast Guard salary, housing allowance and medical benefits.”
The partnership between the Coast Guard and SC State provides a gateway for students to more easily access resources needed to join the branch through CSPI. The agreement is designed to optimize outreach and engagement efforts, while providing tuition-saving choices for SC State students and academic options and solutions for faculty. Through the partnership, it is expected that students and faculty will gain an increased knowledge of the U.S. Coast Guard and how it serves the country.
“Take advantage of the opportunities that the Coast Guard has to offer,” said Clark. “This [partnership] highlights the value that SC State brings to the table. It highlights the value of partnerships and collaborations with various entities. It highlights the value of what people see in the students of this institution.”
Clark said that Sokalzuk has been on board since the very beginning.
“We are thrilled to partner with this incredible institution. There are so many good things happening at South Carolina State and it is an energized environment. I can feel it when I walk around the campus. I could feel it at the football game two weeks ago. Today’s about opportunity. We know that the kind of leaders and thinkers that this institution builds, is what the Coast Guard needs,” Sokalzuk said.
He confirmed that over the years, the Coast Guard has had numerous SC State graduates serve, but is looking forward to having more join.
“We want more of that Bulldog Battalion energy. We want to build our own Bulldog fleet in the Coast Guard. All of our South Carolina State alumni in the Coast Guard have just been exceptional leaders,” Sokalzuk said.
“These are exciting times for the Coast Guard. We’re building new ships. We’re missionizing aircraft, creating cyber capabilities, optimizing our ports and waterways to support maritime security, safety and stewardship across our country. We need better diversity and better, new ideas in the Coast Guard,” he continued.
Sokalzuk hopes to partner with the university on projects and research that will enhance Coast Guard operations in the future.
SC State graduates, Cmdr. Patrick Burkett and Cmdr. Richard Howell, were present at the signing. They visited the campus in April, as talks of collaborating with SC State set the premise for Tuesday’s signing.
Burkett, a Norway, South Carolina native, was unsure of how he would pay for college until he discovered opportunities available within the Coast Guard.
“My parents couldn’t afford to put me through college. I put myself through college and the first couple of years were rough. I kept asking around and I found out about the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative. The program was a blessing from God. This opportunity can set you up, not only financially, but for a solid foundation as soon as you get out of college.”
Burkett also discussed options for recent college graduates who have student loan debt. The Coast Guard’s Student Loan Repayment Program pays up to $60,000 in student loans.
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn also attended the event and expressed the significance of partnerships such as this.
“This will enable people like loyal sons, Burkett and Howell, and myself and others, to feel a little more comfortable as we try to create an atmosphere of what has become my motto, and that is making the greatness of this country accessible and affordable for all of its citizens. That’s what this signing is all about,” Clyburn said.
For more information about the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, visit www.gocoastguard.com/cspi.