Tired of being the underdog in battling top universities for the best and brightest minority high school students, Naval Academy officials have devised an aggressive recruiting campaign with a $740,000 price tag.
Their goal is to increase African-American and Hispanic enrollment from about 7.5 percent each to 12 percent each in all four classes and to raise the total racial minority enrollment -- including Asian Pacific and Native American -- from 18 percent to percent by 2004.
Denise Wesley, an 18-year-old from Mississippi, is the type of minority candidate the academy wants. She graduated fourth in her high school class, scored 1,270 on the Scholastic Assessment Test and was president of her church youth group.
Other schools wanted her, too. In all, she received $1 million in scholarship offers including the $250,000 academy education. She chose Vanderbilt University in Nashville, which, in addition to offering a free four years, will pay for summer school abroad.
"How can you compete with offers like hers?" asked Lt. James Wyatt, the recruiter who tried to attract Ms. Wesley. "It's tough to distinguish yourself from other schools."
Academy officials hope their plan, awaiting approval by Congress, will give them an edge in attracting minorities. It includes paying for trips to the academy for targeted students, picking up the tab for academy officials to travel to urban areas, advertising and a new director of minority admissions at the academy.
Academy officials also plan to double to six the number of recruiters and to increase minority enrollment from 50 percent to 65 percent at the academy's main feeder school -- the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island.
"A lot of minority candidates are good kids, but they have not had the opportunity to get the education they need to succeed here," said John Renard, dean of academy admissions. "Or they did not start preparing soon enough and they do not have the math and science they need."
The Rhode Island prep school will get $420,000 to hire more faculty members in anticipation of increased minority enrollment.
Academy officials acknowledge that many teens are put off by the six-year commitment graduates must make to the Navy. That time in addition to the four years of schooling can seem like an eternity to teens-agers, such as Ms. Wesley, who had other offers with no strings attached.
comes down to whether you want to serve your country," Mr. Renard said.
It is the job of the recruiters, such as Lt. Larry Gutierrez, to give a face and a voice to the glossy brochures that promote the academy and its lifestyle.
Lieutenant Gutierrez, who is working in Houston, was one of three recruiters dispatched two years ago to cities with big minority populations. Not an academy graduate himself, he admits his job is difficult.
"Typically they are considering West Point and other Ivy League schools," he said. "If they are on the ball, everyone else is after them, too."
Poor school districts in urban areas can be a tough sell, he said. "In some of the minority schools the students are not encouraged to take the SAT or ACT tests and that is the first stepping stone." The ACT is the American College Test.
While many students in inner cities have heard of the Naval Academy, they do not always view it as an option, said Lt. Bernhard Harrison, a recruiter whose office is in Oakland, Calif.
"The majority of parents never considered it," he said. "Mostly in high schools we get a lot of enlisted people recruited and that is what students think of rather than the officer's side of the Navy."
Lieutenant Wyatt said the students may be concerned because they've heard stories from parents or grandparents who remember the military as a hostile environment with no leadership opportunities. He tries to remind them that officers in today's Navy are pilots and ship commanders.
And then there's the fear of going to war. "I just tell them that going to war is possible, but I've been in the military for 17 years and I haven't seen any conflicts yet," Lieutenant Wyatt said.
Even if the academy's pitch men can answer all the questions and calm fears, they still face stiff competition from fellow recruiters from the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
"There is not a stone we have left unturned when it comes to recruiting African-Americans," said Col. Patrick Toffler, head of West Point's planning division. "It's a very, very competitive market."
Like the Naval Academy, about 7.5 percent of each class at West Point is African-American and the total minority population is about 18 percent.
"We don't think it's realistic to expect African-American enrollment to increase significantly . . . only about nine percent of college students are African-American and they make up about 12 percent of the general population," Colonel Toffler said.
When faced with these statistics and competition, Naval Academy recruiters stress the variety of jobs, from flying to submarine service to becoming a Marine Corps officer.
That variety is what made Timothy Moore, of Magnolia, N.J., choose the Naval Academy over West Point. He was accepted to both.
"The academy has more of the career opportunities that I am interested in," said Mr. Moore, who will be a plebe this year. "I want to get into engineering and computers."
But the promise of a first-rate engineering curriculum was not enough for Ms. Wesley, who Lieutenant Wyatt courted with weekly phone calls after she attended a summer seminar at the academy.
"They really had me fired up," she said. "But I had time to cool down and I realized that I would be out to sea a lot and I really didn't like that. Also, after I get my degree, I want to be in graduate school rather than be on a ship."
The disciplined atmosphere and the thought that the academy is the "best engineering school in the world" is what steered Midshipman Neil Potts from Rutgers and Drexel universities to Annapolis.
The sophomore midshipman also was lobbied by a recruiter who called almost weekly to make sure his application process was going well and to keep him interested in the academy.
"They made it pretty clear they wanted me to come," he said. "That was one thing I liked about this place. They will go out of their way to help."