The United States Naval Academy instituted the Trident Scholar Program in 1963 to provide an opportunity for a limited number of exceptionally capable students to engage in independent study and research during their senior year. Under this program, midshipmen in the top 10 percent of their class at the end of the first semester of their junior year are invited to submit proposed research projects and programs of study for evaluation. Midshipmen selected to participate are afforded an unusually exciting educational experience, and there has been a gratifying response to the program. The number of scholars selected has ranged from a low of three to a high of sixteen, with thirteen scholars in the Class of 2013.
Each Trident Scholar's academic program for the year is modified to substitute research courses and thesis for traditional courses within the major. Each scholar has one or more Naval Academy faculty advisors who are well acquainted with the field of study and who serve as research mentors to the scholar. Scholars may request to have scientists and area specialists from neighboring laboratories or universities serve as consultants for their research efforts, and in some cases, the scholars may travel to nearby facilities such as the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to use equipment not available at the Naval Academy. A Trident Scholar Committee, made up of faculty members with special interests in scholarship and research, administers the program under the guidance of the Associate Director of Midshipman Research and the responsibility of the Academic Dean and Provost.
As the fall semester draws to a close, each Trident Scholar submits an interim report, describing the project background and results obtained thus far, to the faculty advisor(s) and to the Trident Scholar Committee. In April of the spring semester, each Trident Scholar presents the results of his or her research in a final written report, a lecture at a Naval Academy conference, and by participating in a poster session prior to a formal dinner. The dinner brings together for critical discussion the entire spectrum of Naval Academy research — graduating as well as newly selected scholars, their advisors and sponsors, members of the Trident Scholar Committee and invited guests.
Following an assessment of each scholar's project accomplishments, and an evaluation of his final written report, poster and conference presentation, the Trident Scholar Committee has the difficult task of identifying the single scholar to be recommended to the Academic Dean and Provost to receive the Office of Naval Intelligence Harry E. Ward Trident Scholar prize. On the "chronological listing" web pages, recipients of the Trident prize, awarded to the midshipman producing the most outstanding Trident project for that graduating class, are indicated by a trident symbol beside their names.
While every midshipmen at the Naval Academy learns standard research methodology in the fundamental and advanced courses within the academic majors, it is through participation in the Trident Scholar Program that a midshipman has the opportunity to contribute his or her thoughts, intuition, creativity and enthusiasm into a substantial, non-textbook problem. The freedom from a normal classroom routine requires a responsible student - one committed to excellence and one who will call upon personal, professional and technical expertise to establish the elements of the project, to identify the resources required, and to bring the project full circle from inception to results, explanations and conclusions.Trident Scholars frequently present their research results at local, regional and national meetings of their discipline. Several are co-authors with their faculty mentors on presentations, refereed journal articles and patents. Many are awarded graduate scholarships, with some of the recent scholars accepted to the Cambridge University, England and Stanford University. Statistically, Trident Scholars are more likely to achieve success in their naval professions than their Academy classmates. Over thirty of the previous Trident Scholars with the requisite years of Naval Service have been promoted to the rank of Navy Captain and eleven have reached the rank of Admiral.