In spring of 2022, Andrew Foster will graduate from Long Beach State with a degree in civil engineering.
But instead of the post-graduate job search most anticipate upon completing their schooling, Foster, 23, will be heading over to officer candidate school in New London, Connecticut to begin a 17 week specialized course that if he passes will make him an ensign, or a junior officer, in the United States Coast Guard.
This is the next step for Foster, who is part of the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative Program, a national scholarship program for students in or pursuing a full-time bachelor’s degree program and interested in serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Selected candidates for the program, like Foster, will complete basic training during the summer and receive full-funding for two years of college, which not only includes tuition and fees, but also medical benefits, a full-time Coast Guard salary and housing allowance.
Foster learned about the CSPI program while at Solano Community College in Fairfield through his fiancé’s father, who was in the Coast Guard and retired as a Master Chief, the highest rank someone enlisted can obtain. After understanding more about the Coast Guard, Foster was compelled to pursue it.
“I was still trying to figure out whether or not I was going to go to a four-year college and pursue a bachelor’s degree because that wasn’t something that was always an option to me,” Foster said. “However, the CSPI program definitely gave me that opportunity.”
Foster’s stepfather approved of his decision, and his mother, although excited for Foster to finish schooling and get a degree, couldn’t help but feel the initial nerves any parent would feel towards their child enlisting in the service, enhanced by the fact that Foster is an only child.
Foster called his family when he received the news he’d been accepted into the program. It was exciting, he said. But the realization that he was now enlisted in a military service didn’t sink in until he was sitting on a bus with his fellow recruits, headed to begin training miles away in New Jersey.
Since Foster is still a student, his main responsibility as part of the CSPI program is to hit the books and participate in 16 hours a month worth of Coast Guard activities.
But in the future, his career path could look like that of Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Bor, Lt. Quentin Long or Lt. Cmdr. Jay Hagwood, all three CSPI program selectees who now hold officer positions and currently serve at the Los Angeles-Long Beach Coast Guard Base, tucked away in the Port of Los Angeles.
Hagwood was accepted into the CSPI program in 2008 while he was enrolled at Old Dominion University in Virginia. He said that he always knew he wanted to join the service, seeing as his father served in the U.S. Navy and people around him joined the military, it wasn’t until he came across the CSPI program that he knew what he wanted to join.
At the Los Angeles-Long Beach sector, Hagwood is the Incident Management Division chief. Under his purview is responding to environmental pollution as well as the three response boat stations within the Los Angeles-Long Beach sector’s area of responsibility, which goes up to San Luis Obispo County Line. These boats are used by the Coast Guard for work including search and rescue.
The experience of working in the Coast Guard has provided Hagwood the “opportunity of exposure.”
“I grew up in a small area in Virginia and hadn’t really left that area for most of my life leading up to getting in the CSPI program…so the ability to travel almost 13 years later, I’ve been to 22 countries and have moved and lived on each coast a few times, back and forth, so the ability to see the country and see the world has really been a blessing,” Hagwood said. “I’d say that’s been the biggest impact.”
For Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Bor, the Coast Guard has provided him an opportunity to work for something that was larger than himself.
When he first started out, Bor worked in search and rescue. Later, the Coast Guard encouraged Bor to attend law school, where he became a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and has prosecuted environmental crimes. That work, Bor said, was fulfilling to him knowing that he was making an impact on environmental protection in the U.S.
Currently Bor is the Chief of the Inspections Division at the Los Angeles-Long Beach sector, where he and his team board commercial vessels to ensure that the required safety and security regulations are being met so that no boats are leaking oil into the ocean nor at risk of being a potential fire hazard, among other things. Likewise, Bor and his team are to ensure that ships entering the Port of Los Angeles are safe so that nothing disrupts transport.
Bor learned about the CSPI program in 2002 while enrolled in Rice University in Texas. At the time, Bor had been a civil rights intern with the Department of Transportation. His boss was a Coast Guard officer who suggested Bor look into the CSPI program.
The CSPI program not only solved Bor’s financial needs, who needed scholarships to pay for his tuition, but captured his interests to do humanitarian and environmental work.
On top of that, Bor said he gets to see someone like himself in a leadership position in the service, a testament to the Coast Guard’s strive for diversity.
“We don’t often see Asian Americans in leadership positions,” Bor said. “And so having an opportunity to serve with incredible people that we work with every day, and also to mentor other junior officers and enlisted members to reach their fullest potential is something that I can’t even put into words how important that has been to me.”
Like Bor, Lt. Quentin Long shared how serving in the Coast Guard has provided him an opportunity to “lead people for a common goal,” an experience he said that would have been difficult to do prior to the CSPI program.
Long was enrolled at Clayton State University in Georgia when a Coast Guard recruiter handed Long a card at his work. He followed up, and now, Long is the Chief of Intelligence, where he is advisor to the captain of the port and its subunits on law enforcement issues, marine safety issues and national security concerns.
“So many people don’t realize but we’re part of the intelligence community on a national level,” Long said. “So there’s 18 intelligence agencies that’s involved in that national level intelligence community and we participate in research, collection of information so that we can use it for strategic advantages and for decision making.”
Had CSULB been in person, Foster would be easy to spot.
That’s because CSPI program recipients are expected to wear their operational dress uniform, the deep blue shirt and pants worn in the Coast Guard, or their tropical blues, a lighter blue short-sleeved shirt with slacks at their universities at least once a week.
It’s about representing the Coast Guard and letting students know about the existence of a program like CSPI.
“Ask about the CSPI program, I will tell you about it,” Foster said, inviting CSULB students to approach him when in-person classes resume. “It’s a great program. I am so lucky to be a part of it. If anyone asks me if they should do it, my first answer will be an immediate yes.”