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Launching of a Legacy: The Naval Academy Women’s Network

Posted on: February 11, 2014 08:00 EST by Midshipman 1st Class Colleen Randolph

On a sunny January afternoon, Stefanie Goebel stood on the stairs of Alumni House and looked down upon a group of female officers and first-class midshipmen. The scene she gazed upon would have been unheard of when Goebel (USNA 1980) was at the Naval Academy as one the first women to attend.

But the launch of the Naval Academy Women’s Network 34 years later shows that increased connections and mentorships among female graduates has become a reality.

“When I arrived in 1976 as a part of the first class of women,” said Goebel, “there were about five to six female officers working on the yard. We had no true female mentors for our unique situation.”

The vision for the network is to support female midshipmen by leveraging the expertise and experience of the women who have gone before.

“The network provides the opportunity for women to make connections and form relationships now, so that as they embark on their careers, the resources not only exist, but also are readily available to them,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Welsh, one of the network’s primary organizers. “As with any leader’s development, the chance to gain additional insight or perspective can only result in even better prepared junior officers and more informed decision-making throughout their careers.”

The network’s organizers and implementers, including Cmdr. Debbie Fermo and Cmdr. Kristin Barnes, recognized through their experiences, that while the presence of female junior officers on sea duty was increasing, the presence of senior women was not. 

After discovering that the number of women officers assigned to the Naval Academy on active duty, retired or in the reserves was nearly ninety, it seemed like the women officers at the academy were in a unique position to start networking with women midshipmen now. A team of graduates – both men and women – developed the Naval Academy Women’s Network in an effort to capitalize on these resources and foster an opportunity to offer insight, perspective and mentorship.

More than 150 women attended the event, ranging from the Class of 1980 to this year’s graduating class of 2014. The launch consisted of a series of ice breaker activities, question and answer sessions, and personal networking time.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of participants, both midshipmen and officers,” said Cmdr. David Smith, chair of the Leadership Ethics and Law Department and advocate of the new network. “This shows the need and desire of our women midshipmen to find women officers and connect in a way that they may not have the opportunity to do in the course of their normal busy schedule.”

The connections made during the two-hour event were nothing short of inspirational. Both female officers and midshipmen alike bonded instantly and the ideas, discussions, questions and knowledge began to flow.

“The female officers were beyond impressive,” said Midshipman 2nd Class Mellissa Boughton, who helped to organize the event. “It was overwhelmingly cool to see generations of women in the room who have forged paths ahead and those behind them who will only continue to achieve great things.”

Not only were the Midshipmen incredibly impressed, but in turn, the female officers were inspired by the midshipmen. The midshipmen’s support generated enthusiasm and encouraged participation “resulting in more participants than we could have imagined for our inaugural event,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Welsh, one of the network’s primary organizers.

Welsh said that at the end of the evening most women left looking for the next opportunity to connect and continue the conversation.

And the conversations and connections will indeed continue. The officers and midshipmen in attendance were ecstatic about the opportunities to network and gain a unique female perspective and are hoping that the network will continue long after the midshipmen graduate and enter the fleet.

Midshipmen, especially Boughton, are more than eager for the prospect. 

“Being able to talk with many different women in the network has given me a lot of insight into how the fleet truly works, what problems I may come across in the future, and how to better prepare myself,” she said. “As has been said many times throughout this program, ‘You don't know what you don't know.’ In networking with these ladies I am gaining more and more knowledge and can only benefit from their experiences and what they already know.”

The scene of female officers and midshipmen that Ms. Goebel looked upon may have been thought strange or out of the ordinary when she arrived at the Naval Academy 1976, but it is a scene that exemplifies the evolution of Naval Academy women.  

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