All Hands on Deck: John Jay Students Answer the Coast Guard’s Call

All Hands on Deck: John Jay Students Answer the Coast Guard’s Call

By Peter Dodenhoff

New York City, with four island boroughs and one peninsula, is blessed with a first-class natural harbor that has long made it one of the country’s great port cities. Yet with that distinction, particularly in an age of heightened risk of terrorism, comes a greater-than-average need for maritime security. John Jay College’s Department of Security, Fire and Emergency Management is once again rising to meet the challenge, and in the process is providing students with a unique opportunity for experiential learning.

As of the fall semester of 2016, John Jay is an official detachment of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Auxiliary University Programs, a national initiatie created in 2007 to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for future public service and provide opportunities for students to gain boating education, learn about homeland security, and gain operational and leadership experience.

“Our students are very limited in all things boat-related,” said Professor Chuck Nemeth, the SFEM chair. “Half of them don’t even know where New York harbor is. That’s why this is such a rich thing. It opens up a whole new world for them.”

The program is the brainchild of Professor Susan Pickman, who is a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla based in lower Manhattan. A longtime boater herself, she took the idea to Nemeth, who gave it his enthusiastic endorsement.

“I read a blog by a student at another college who was in the AUP and was on an icebreaker in the Arctic mapping the ocean floor and measuring pollution, and I thought, ‘I want my students to be able to do things like this.’ That started a long process of getting it through channels.”

The overall approval process took nine months, including unanimous support from the department’s faculty, a green light from the City University, and an enthusiastic welcome from the Coast Guard, which had the final say in the matter. “The Coast Guard is very excited about having us on board because we’re so multilingual, so multinational, so diverse,” said Pickman.

John Jay’s AUP detachment is officially affiliated with the lower Manhattan flotilla, which provides much of the program’s training. Coursework includes incident management, safe boating and boat operations, communications, marine safety, vessel examination, aviation, and public affairs, all non-credit programs taught by the flotilla at its South Street location. In addition, AUP students, who are required to join the flotilla itself, take a 36-hour, credit-bearing leadership training capstone course taught at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and a 95-hour hands-on internship program.

“We trying to incorporate the entire course of study into our major, so when you get a list of electives, the entire Coast Guard course of study might be worth, say, six credits,” Nemeth noted. “We’re still working with the Coast Guard to make that determination, and it’s something that will be brought up in a department faculty meeting.”

The coursework, whether on- or off-campus, is rigorous, and SFEM faculty, led by Pickman, work with the Coast Guard in reviewing students’ academic performance. The students themselves have to post course activity and progress reports on Blackboard.

Although the AUP detachment is still quite new, it has already shown its appeal among John Jay students. Twelve students are currently in the detachment, Pickman said, and another 18 are in the process of joining. Several dozen more have expressed interest at open-house events.

Professor (and Coast Guard Auxiliarist) Susan Pickman
Professor (and Coast Guard Auxiliarist) Susan Pickman

Solomon Ditta, a senior majoring in Security Management, is one such student, having helped in the formation of the AUPdetachment along with Pickman and 2016 John Jay graduate Matthew Pascual, who is now in the active-duty Coast Guard. “I had no boating or maritime background,” said Ditta, who is president of the John Jay detachment. “But through this program I have learned a great deal regarding maritime, boating, and Coast Guard operations.”

Ditta and the detachment’s vice president, sophomore Bria John, completed the leadership capstone in New London last semester and came home raving about the program. “Plain and simple, it brought me to a new level and ability to think critically as a leader,” said Ditta. John, who is majoring in Fire and Emergency Service, added, “Everything I learned made me a better person.”

The program is very disciplined, she said. “It shows you that you need to work hard, and forces you to think about yourself. But it’s definitely

Professor Chuck Nemeth
Professor Chuck Nemeth

a life-changer.”

John Jay is only the 24th college nationwide to have an AUP detachment, and faculty and students alike see the marriage between college and Coast Guard as a natural and mutually beneficial one. “If you are interested in an internship where you could get out on air patrol, boat crew, or join a Coast Guard emergency planning, there are numerous possible pathways within the AUP program, whether you wanted to make a career out of it or just have something to help your résumé stand out,” said Ditta, who is planning to pursue a master’s degree in security or emergency management. “Being part of the Coast Guard Auxiliary is something that helps me give back to New York City.”

Nemeth likes the close alignment of the missions of John Jay and the Coast Guard. “We’re like natural brothers and sisters,” he observed. “The occupational fit of these two entities, the Coast Guard and our department, could not be better blended. We’re a student-oriented department. We love student success and career linkages for our students, and you could not come up with a better mesh for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Pickman added that if AUP students choose to enlist in the Coast Guard, as Pascual did, they have a 73 percent chance of being accepted into the highly selective Officer Candidate School.

With the ranks of Auxiliarists equaling, if not exceeding, the 32,000 or so active-duty and reserve Coast Guard personnel, they provide a vital “force multiplier” for accomplishing the Coast Guard’s diverse missions, particularly at a time when the Coast Guard is facing a sharp reduction in its budget.

“The Coast Guard is in the business of saving lives and protecting the homeland,” said Pickman. “So are we.” Added Nemeth: “It opens a world of possibilities. They’re not just doing law enforcement. They’re saving the environment, they’re saving lives, and the Auxiliary is an integral part of most Coast Guard missions.

Learning-shutterstock_106283654.jpg“The Coast Guard is in the field every day engaging in justice activities and providing safety,” Nemeth observed. “It’s pure justice—serving your neighbor.” JM

For more information on the John Jay/Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program, contact Professor Susan Pickman at, or visit




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