During her third year at Conn, Maureen Smolskis ’15 set her heart on attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy after graduation.
An international relations major and scholar in Conn’s Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, Smolskis realized her dream May 9, 2017 when she completed the Coast Guard’s rigorous and intensive Officer Candidate School program.
The 17-week program prepares candidates to serve as officers of the U.S. Coast Guard by introducing them to the military lifestyle, and providing a vast curriculum covering topics essential for performing the duties of a Coast Guard officer.
The attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, which occurred when she was 8 years old, steered Smolskis toward a career of service. Then in 2002, the Beltway sniper attacks unfolded in her hometown of Kensington, Maryland.
“In both instances I saw adults in my life terrified, but they refused to explain what exactly was happening,” Smolskis said in 2014. “Not knowing what was happening—and seeing the strongest people I know scared—really affected me.”
Attending Connecticut College was an easy choice. After taking an introduction to international relations course with Professor Emeritus of Government and International Relations William M. Rose, Smolskis found the career path that perfectly matched her interests and ambitions.
In 2014, Smolskis was awarded $11,000 through the Women in Defense HORIZONS Scholarship, which encourages women to enter national security and defense careers. Smolskis, one of just four women nationally to receive the award, used her scholarship to graduate several months early and prepare her application for the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School program.
In addition to an application that included an essay, resume and recommendations, she went through a medical screening to ensure her fitness in the military, and a lengthy interview to assess her commitment and potential as an officer.
Smolskis found that balancing a rigorous academic schedule at Conn, while also participating in dance performances through Conn’s Dance Department, served her as she entered the Coast Guard and tackled new academic and physical challenges.
“That transition was something that didn’t work for some people,” she said, describing her daily demands as “intense.”
A highlight of the program was getting to spend two weeks training aboard the 270-foot long Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma as it traveled up the New England coast.
“It was the first time I got to see the job I’m going to be doing,” she said. “They let me turn the boat around twice, which doesn’t sound very cool, but I definitely thought, ‘this is awesome.’”
Smolskis is now on her first tour as an Ensign off the coast of Cordova, Alaska, where she is stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore, a 225-foot buoy tender vessel with a crew of about 50. She will spend the next two years training as a deck watch officer.
“Your real job as an Ensign is to be a sponge and learn as much as you can, and the first tour is always a training tour,” she explained. “I will be continuing to learn from the other officers, but most especially from the crew. They’re the ones who know their jobs really well.”
Smolskis would encourage any Conn graduates who are eager to serve to feel confident applying to OCS.
“One of the best things about working in the Coast Guard is that it’s not political—you’re helping people, whether it’s tending buoys, or performing search and rescue operations,” she said.