Mids bring Academy home

Students spend break to reach out locally to potential applicants

November 26, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Sprung for the Thanksgiving break, many Naval Academy students have toted home an extra sack of supplies on a mission to act as ambassadors back in Tuscaloosa, Tucson, Trenton and beyond.

Operation Information will spread the Navy gospel to high school students who might have what it takes to be midshipmen. Packed into those sacks are videos and brochures to lure future admirals and astronauts to Annapolis.

This week, midshipmen nationwide have been visiting schools, meeting with civic and youth groups, and speaking on radio and television programs. More than 500 students are participating, bringing the academy message to more than 2,000 high schools and middle schools in 46 states. Mids get three extra days of vacation in exchange for their services.

The program began in 1955 to stir interest around the country in the Naval Academy, whose mission and history are best known on the East Coast. The academy's admissions office has expanded this and other outreach programs as it markets the school to students at a younger age. Academy officials especially hope to reach more minorities and women, and to begin reaching them as early as middle school.

Mids are expected to tell about the academic, sports and military programs, without sugar coating.

"Nobody talks about the academy better than the midshipmen. Nobody knows the academy better," Don Nelson, plans and programs coordinator for the admissions office, told the academy's newspaper, the Trident. "It plants the seed."

Other programs aimed at high schoolers include a "candidate visit" program, in which teen-agers from around the country visit Annapolis to spend a weekend in a midshipman's shoes. Ten times a year, groups of 100 visit the academy to spend two days dressing like midshipmen, eating in the huge mess hall and rising at dawn for exercise.

Each summer, hundreds of other high schoolers attend Summer Seminar, a scaled-down version of the boot camp-style training all freshmen, called plebes, go through.

Competition remains tough. The academy accepts about one in 10 applicants, compared with one in four at the University of Maryland. Members of this year's freshman class scored on average higher than 1300 on the SAT, and one in 10 was president of his or her high school student body.

Recruitment is a constant concern. The federally supported school cannot recruit athletes to the extent that other universities do, and the required five-year commitment to the Navy after graduation -- to compensate for the free four-year education -- deters many high schoolers.

But midshipmen are finding that they have lures for the high school crowd.

"Everybody I talked to wanted to be a Navy SEAL or a pilot. That's what they ask about," said Ensign Bill Couch, a recent graduate who works in the admissions office, which runs the program. Couch, who met with high schoolers in his hometown, Sandusky, Ohio, last Thanksgiving, said, "They want to know about the exciting things we do."

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