Creating the Coast Guard Community College

By Petty Officer Kelly Parker, D13 Public Affairs

SEATTLE – It’s widely known that the Coast Guard will respond on a moment’s notice to help a disabled vessel twenty miles off shore, or a stranded flood victim twenty miles inland. They take pride in educating a young first grader through a tour of a small boat station or volunteering hours of their time picking up trash at a local beach.

What’s not widely known are those who volunteer countless hours of their time to help these Coast Guardsmen.

Dr. Robert Smith, director of the Coast Guard Community College, was honored June 19 with a Public Service Award during the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake’s college graduation ceremony.

Smith had just retired from the Marine Corp Historical Society in San Diego and moved to Newport, Ore., when he noticed the Coast Guard small boat station at Yaquina Bay. He had never been aboard a Coast Guard facility and thought he would introduce himself.

“He had written to the station saying basically ‘this is who I am, if you’re interested, then maybe we could get a [college] program started at the Coast Guard station,” said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Mahoney, who was the executive officer of Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay in 2003.

Smith mentioned to Mahoney that he was involved with the accredited Vincennes University located in Indiana and, if anyone at the station was interested in getting a diploma, he would help them achieve that.

Soon, five members were enrolled into the college program, including Mahoney. Smith recruited local teachers from the community including an elementary school teacher who taught math and a retired psychologist, who was the head of the local Red Cross.

“It was about a year later when the first group of five people graduated,” said Mahoney. “What started off as a very small program has mushroomed into something much bigger.”

In fact, the program is now being used by 16 small boat units and Coast Guard cutters across the United States. The program currently has 16 members working on their bachelor’s degree and four on their master’s.

“We started the program in 2003,” said Smith. “By August of this year we’ll have graduated, with diplomas in hand, one-hundred and thirty-one people.”

“He expanded it out on his own,” said Mahoney. “He approached Station Siuslaw River, Umpqua River, and Tillamook Bay. A bunch of different Coast Guard units.”

“We help them all the way through,” said Smith. “We help them with their bachelor’s at Fort Hayes State University in Kansas. We offer a master’s degree program through California State University, Dominguez Hills.”

“I have a tremendous faculty,” added Smith. “We’re small but we’re good and very dedicated. They understand what it is to teach young people at motor lifeboat stations and cutters when they’re heavily tasked.”

The Coast Guard Community College caters to the long hours that it takes to complete different Coast Guard missions, which are normally not on a set schedule.

“Each student is provided with a powerpoint that clearly lists fifteen classes that he will be taking,” said Smith. “He also receives a syllabus along with that, and on these powerpoints are all of his lectured reading materials.”

“So if he’s on watch, or if he’s on leave, he has no excuse for not keeping up with the course material,” added Smith. “We meet with each student group via site speed internet communication twice a week. Or we meet with them via telephone conferencing.”

For any Coast Guardsman who has ever wanted to further their education by getting a college diploma, Smith couldn’t have made it any easier. The Coast Guard pays for the complete tuition to Vincennes and Vincennes supplies the books for free. Nothing is paid for out of pocket.

The mission statement on the Coast Guard Community College’s blog, says the program’s available to Coast Guard members for the sole purpose of serving and graduating students.

Smith made it quite clear that if you’re going to take one of his classes, you have to be taking the necessary steps towards graduation. He gives fourteen months to graduate and he has yet to have anyone not graduate.

“He’s a very determined individual,” said Mahoney. “He’s impacting people‘s lives everyday. Whether it’s through college classes, or track and field, or one of the advisory boards for [Newport,] he’s always doing something that makes a difference.”

“I’ve asked him, why do you do this? He said, ‘what I do today is important,'” added Mahoney. “This is really a very educated, well-traveled person, who has this incredible depth of knowledge, and he’s willing to share it with anybody who has an interest.”

“A guy could possibly before I die, have in his hand a PhD,” said Smith. “And say it all started at the Coast Guard Community College in Newport, Ore.”

In many ways Smith shares the same principles as the Coast Guard, by dedicating his life to helping others. Coast Guardsmen who are trying to better their lives’ through obtaining a higher education.

Those interested in the program can reach Smith at,

More information about Vincennes University is available at

The Coast Guard Community College blog can be viewed at

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One Comment

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