A Winthrop University U.S. Army ROTC cadet had a special honor on Thursday when U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Sandra Stosz administered his oath of enlistment while she was on campus to speak about women in leadership.
Matthew Stone, 19, of Clover, is set to graduate in 2016. The ROTC cadet and Winthrop criminology major plans to go on to become an officer in the U.S. Army. It was especially meaningful for Stone, he said, for a distinguished military leader such as Stosz to administer his oath.
Stosz applauded Winthrop’s ROTC program, which allows students and future commissioned officers to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Rock Hill and attend classes at UNC Charlotte through the military science and aerospace studies departments. Some Army ROTC courses are also taught on Winthrop’s campus.
On Thursday, several of Winthrop’s ROTC cadets attended Stosz’s speech along with active-duty or veterans of all five branches of the U.S. military and representatives from the local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Stosz, who serves as the 40th superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, in 2011 became the first woman ever chosen to lead a U.S. military academy. Entering the academy in 1978, Stosz was a member of just the third class of women to join the Coast Guard Academy after the passage of laws to permit women to attend.
Today, she said, about one-third of the Coast Guard Academy’s cadets are women. When Stosz attended, just 5 percent of the cadet population was female.
As a teen looking to attend a U.S. military academy, Stosz said, she narrowed her choices to the Coast Guard or the Navy. She was a “tomboy” living in Baltimore in the late 1970s when women were first allowed to attend military academies.
The Navy accepted female cadets but, upon graduation, options were limited for women because of a combat exclusion law. In the Coast Guard, however, Stosz found she could hold any position during her career.
The choice was clear, she said: “I wanted to have equal access for putting in the hard work.”
‘Create your own fate’
After graduating from the academy, Stosz acquired 12 years of at-sea experience, including commanding two cutters: an ice-breaking tug on the Great Lakes and a cutter that patrolled the North Atlantic and Caribbean waters. She and her crews conducted many Coast Guard missions involving fisheries enforcement, search and rescue, and drug and alien migrant interdiction.
Later, she served as director of reserve and leadership at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. She has held various other positions during her career, including military and executive assistant for the Secretary of Transportation and commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s recruit training center.
Working in a male-dominated field, she said, has sometimes presented challenges. While commanding a small cutter in 1990, Stosz visited a church with some relatives who lived nearby. As she was leaving, she said, the pastor asked her, “Don’t you feel bad, taking the job from a young man who needs to support his family?”
The experience, Stosz said, was a reminder of the gender stereotypes and mindset that may discourage women from pursuing top-level management jobs or certain career paths.
Her advice on Thursday: “Actively seek mentors and create your own fate.”
She recalled the time early in her career when, pulling into a “liberty port,” the ship’s male crew members would casually organize among themselves dinner or activities in the local town. At first, she said, she didn’t join in because she wasn’t invited. For women looking to break into a circle of male colleagues at any level, Stosz said, sometimes the answer is simply speaking up and inviting yourself.
“People aren’t actually trying to exclude you,” she said. “They just aren’t thinking.”
Stosz also reminded her audience of the struggles and perseverance of women who came before her generation – those who fought for women’s right to vote and laid the groundwork for women to serve equally in the military and other fields.
Her hope, she said, is that one day she won’t be remembered only as the first woman to serve as superintendent of a U.S. military academy.
Instead, Stosz said, “I’d rather be known as the 40th.”