A push for minorities

Naval Academy unveils tailored recruiting tools

August 23, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun Reporter

The U.S. Naval Academy unveiled yesterday new, edgy marketing tools - including a graphic novel and a fast-paced promotional video featuring African-American, Asian and Hispanic midshipmen - in a bid to increase the number of minorities on its Annapolis campus.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, the academy superintendent, said the officers in the military should reflect the diversity of the enlisted force, which is about 47 percent minority. The class of 1,250 plebes that entered Annapolis this week includes 351 minorities, or 28 percent, a record for the academy but still not good enough for Fowler.

"We're looking for those who can succeed here, from places where they may not have thought about the Naval Academy," Fowler, who has been superintendent for just over a year, said in a news conference yesterday. "We're going to get people who before went off to Princeton and Stanford and MIT. Some of those young people are going to come here."

To that end, the academy has produced a slick 60-second video commercial, which shows minority midshipmen flying planes and sailing ships, that will be shown during televised Navy football games. It might also be given to the academy's 2,200 volunteer recruiters across the country.

A 15-minute version of the film, complete with testimonials from the midshipmen and their parents, will be shown at the academy's visitor center. The academy is also sending recruiters into inner-city high schools with a technical focus in places such as Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia.

The graphic novel will be released this fall. Fowler said he has seen a first draft but would not provide details, except to say that it includes scenes in the tomb of John Paul Jones, the Revolutionary War naval hero whose crypt is under the Naval Academy Chapel.

The graphic novel - which typically are lengthy comic books with complex storylines - has some fantasy elements, as well, Fowler said.

"It's a little bit of young people who are able to see what they might be doing in the future and their part of protecting America," he said.

Cmdr. Jim Jackson, a member of the Naval Academy Class of 1975 and one of the first 100 African-Americans to graduate from the academy, supports Fowler's goals but said some of the efforts may be misplaced. He questioned focusing recruitment efforts on the inner city because he said those students often have trouble adapting to the military lifestyle.

He suggested parochial schools would be better targets for recruiting because of the emphasis on uniforms and discipline, and the children of enlisted minorities, who are accustomed to the lifestyle.

"I'm not disregarding the inner-city kid," said Jackson, who spent four years as a minority recruiter at the Naval Academy and now does minority recruitment for Anne Arundel Community College, "but I think with ... the amount of advertising that the typical high school kid sees, the money would be better spent targeting those kids who need only make a very small transition to go into a very competitive situation."

In developing the new recruiting tools, Fowler said, officials asked themselves, "How do we reach out and market the Naval Academy to a young, diverse, achieving group who want to, as the theme says, fulfill their destiny?"

The academy is not exactly having trouble filling slots. It received 11,000 applications for this year's entering class. And it has already received 10,000 applications for next year's class, months before the application deadline.

The video "is to reach out to those who haven't considered the Naval Academy," Fowler said. "I need more applications from under-represented geographical areas," such as the Upper Plains and the West Coast, "and more what I consider under-represented ethnic and racial minorities."

Traditionally, the academy has used a rather boring, stale video that shows standard Annapolis images with a mature male voice-over. The new video, which features the Naval Academy Gospel Choir, morphing images and quick cuts, is a striking departure.

"I think it's going to take a generation to get an officer corps [that will] represent America," Fowler said. "My goal is to get moving down that path at the Naval Academy."

Meanwhile, to help minorities feel more comfortable with the academy, Fowler is admitting more minorities into the Summer Seminars - a weeklong program for rising high school seniors that simulates the plebe experience. This summer, 800 of the 2,250 students who went to Annapolis for the seminars were minorities, compared with 500 last year.

Such efforts pay off, Fowler said. Half of the 83 African-Americans in the new plebe class were Summer Seminar students. "It's an important part of getting over the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of military service," he said.

In addition to improving diversity, Fowler said yesterday that a priority for him is developing midshipmen to serve a nation at war. He said more midshipmen - 3,400 this summer compared with 2,200 a year ago - are spending their summers getting "fleet experience," meaning they are serving at Navy or Marine Corps camps, bases and on ships.

Fowler has also emphasized a somewhat stricter culture on campus. In the last academic year, he said, missed classes were down by 21 percent.

Finally, Fowler said, the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point are considering allowing sponsorship of the annual Army-Navy football game. He said any sponsor would have to meet the "morals and ethics" of the academies and that no decision has been made.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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