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’s majoring in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, oversees 22 university programs across the country. Among her duties as division leader is to maintain the auxiliary’s academic standards, coordinate professional development programs, and create new training courses.

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 with the corps to join the unit.

Leadership development is a big goal for the program, especially with about 70 percent of its graduates who apply for the Coast Guard's rigorous Officer Candidate School getting accepted, Mazzola said.

“No matter what you do in life, whether you’re going into the military or the private and public sector, it’s up to you to be a good leader. Development of that is huge, and learning through experiences is the best way to do that,” she said.

Mazzola, the recipient of a corps Emerging Leader Scholarship, said she hopes to commission with the Coast Guard after graduation and eventually put her political science degree to work.

She joined the auxiliary in 2014 at the urging of a friend who served in the Coast Guard and found her calling.

She spent summer 2015 as an intern with the Coast Guard in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she did “a little bit of everything. The senior chief wanted me to learn as much as possible.”

She went out with a crew of electricians that work on boats, rode on a Coast Guard ice breaker, and shadowed the senior chief to learn about the administrative side, for example.

This past summer, Mazzola interned for U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, a corps alum who represents Virginia's 1st Congressional District. She said she especially enjoyed interacting with constituents. “When they come in for tours, it’s a lot of fun because they want to soak up some of the history,” she said.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary University Programs started in 2007 at Auburn University, The Citadel, and The College of William & Mary.

Virginia Tech’s program followed in 2010. It took a few years to really take root, said Lt. Col. Don Russell, deputy commandant of cadets for VPI Citizen-Leader Track. When it did, the unit grew to 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 them at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech’s unit meets weekly to go over Coast Guard course work and to take boating classes. “For us to get out on the water, we have to have a certain amount of training hours both in the classroom and on a boat under supervision,” Mazzola said.

Students 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 it was like,” Mazzola said. “It 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. She is a pleasure to work with.”

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