By Mike Strasser, Pointer ViewApril 1, 2010
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 30, 2010) -- West Point is not about fulfi lling the dream of parents or the hopes of educators. Rather it is a personal decision that can only be made
by the student - to answer the call of service as an Army officer.
This was the message West Point Admissions staff delivered to nearly 20 educators from across the country during a Minority Educator Visit March 23-25. The visit covered the spectrum of West Point, with briefings, informal discussions and an all-encompassing tour of the installation, arming the educators with an abundance of information to take back to their schools.
"Every day is a challenge," Yearling Pablo Rivera told the audience during a briefi ng at the Office of Admissions. "Every day you overcome a different challenge which teaches you how to deal with working under pressure. Nobody can make you want to come here. If someone was forced to come here, they'd leave because it is that challenging."
Rivera's first experience at West Point came early when he accompanied his father, a Fort Drum chaplain, on a training exercise here. He said that exposure as a 10-year-old may have served as a catalyst to his military career. But Rivera also admitted he wasn't a scholar in high school, and was more focused on sports. Like most junior-year students, he began seriously thinking about his future and decided to pursue admission into West Point. He was able to hone his academics at preparatory school before entering the academy.
Rivera shared his story, along with a "Day in the Life" perspective of cadet life at West Point and answered questions about different opportunities of which cadets can take advantage through club activities. The group was impressed to learn he had already completed Air Assault School and will soon be immersed in cultural training during an academic trip to Brazil. The educators spent most of the day touring the cadets' barracks and day room, dining inside Washington Hall and exploring the classrooms and Simulation Center.
Maj. Michael Burns, minority admissions officer, said the objective was to empower educators with information and open lines of communication so they can assist students who may be interested in attending the service academy.
"About a year ago, we discovered that educators didn't understand what West Point was all about, especially in large minority regions," Burns said. "There were misconceptions that the Army wasn't a place for minorities and by going to West Point, you're sending kids directly to the front
lines. So we were trying to fi gure out what we could do, and bringing the educators here was the best idea imaginable because West Point sells itself."
Strolling down Thayer Walk, snapping pictures of massive gothic buildings and taking in the sights of cadets bustling to and from, some educators said they were excited to share the "West Point experience" with their students.
"I have become inspired to go back and try to inspire my students," Mary Ann Collins- Smith, representing George Washington Carver, an inner-city school in New Orleans, said. "It's a wonderful program here. I have some bright students who could avail themselves of this opportunity."
The schools represented are distinguished by both diversity in demographics and educational excellence. Salesianum School, an independent Catholic School in Wilmington, Del., was the state's first racially integrated school. Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., touts alumnus including Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ricky Henderson, and the National Football League's Marshawn Lynch. Clarence Harris, a calculus teacher at the school's engineering academy, said he was fortunate to have been selected to attend the tour, whereas in years past, the opportunity went to their guidance counselors.
Prior to the visit, he said he was somewhat familiar with West Point's engineering program, but little else.
"I've learned this can be an opportunity for students who have talent but maybe not necessarily have shined in high school. I've run across students like that who, with a little bit of discipline, can achieve a lot more than they thought," Harris said.
Students at Chapin High School, located at Fort Bliss, Texas, are quite familiar with Army values and military discipline. Nearly half the school's population is military dependents. Sharon Kay Uribe, the guidance counselor there said her predecessor, whose son was a West Point cadet, gave her a lot of the information she has passed on to her students. The two-day visit supplemented her knowledge of the academy.
"Having been here, I discovered a lot more about cadet support, and how they are set up for success," Uribe said.
Shirley Deanna Hurley, a guidance counselor supervisor with the school district of Manatee County in Bradenton, Fla., was impressed with the information she got directly from the cadets. These one-on-one encounters helped form a different perspective of West Point than what the
average admissions brochure can offer.
"During lunch I sat next to a cadet who is a Rhodes Scholar and will be going to Oxford," Hurley said. "Actually being here and seeing everything in a 'day in the life of' perspective gave me something unique."
Hurley summed up the "West Point experience" as a wholistic development of an
"I believe what West Point does that other universities do not is develop the whole person," Hurley said. "It's more than just academic development. They focus on every aspect of student development, from social to spiritual, and they have everything they need when they walk out of here."
Armed with this new fountain of knowledge, Hurley said it is the duty of the educators to bring what they've learned back into the classroom.
"It's my job to provide my students with every post-secondary opportunity there is, to include the service academies," Hurley said. "We're responsible for giving them this information and letting them make the decision. We can prepare students to go to West Point, but then it's their choice to make whether they go or not."