Trailblazer, ambassador, all-star, champion, leader, mentor, scholar, legend – all words used to embody U.S Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Zeita Merchant.
Yesterday, Merchant was recognized for her outstanding achievements and for her support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) at ESPN’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference Challenge Legends Reception.
The Legends Reception honors HBCU graduates who have had an impact on their respective career and community. Each of this year’s six honorees were presented with an HBCU Trailblazer Award.
“It’s indeed an honor and privilege to be a part of such an elite group of individuals,” said Merchant. “As the least-known out of the recipients, I think it is an honor to be personally recognized for my accomplishments; furthermore, it is a great opportunity to showcase the Coast Guard, our missions and the diversity of the service.”
Merchant, currently assigned as a Congressional Fellow to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a graduate of Tougaloo College and of the Coast Guard’s Minority Officer Recruit Effort (M.O.R.E.) program, now called the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI). It has been her career-long goal to continue to inform and educate student’s of the opportunities in the Coast Guard.
“I am a representative,” she said. “I make it a point to try to let people know about the Coast Guard in general and specifically the CSPI program.”
A Coast Guard advocate, Merchant participates in ongoing and extensive outreach with HBCUs. Most notably, her extraordinary work as a CSPI Ambassador at Spelman College helped the Coast Guard receive its first HBCU Top Supporter Award in 2010. One student she mentored at Spelman is well on her way to earning her commission and starting her Coast Guard career, a testament to Merchant’s commitment.
“I remember the time that I met her, until just recently she graduated from bootcamp. It all came to fruition, from then until now,” said Merchant. “She is so excited about the program.”
A passionate volunteer, Merchant has organized numerous community-service initiatives with organizations such as The RIPPLE Institute Inc., whose mission is to offer youth an opportunity to learn the skills needed to compete in the 21-century workforce.
A community leader, she serves on the Executive Boards for two minority serving organizations: the National Council of Negro Women’s (NCNW) Women of Defense and the National Association of African Americans in the Department of Homeland Security (NAADHS).
A steadfast professional, she is a participant of the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Society of Black Engineers, and is a longtime member of the Coast Guard Commandant’s Diversity Advisory Council.
“My dictum is ‘True leadership is Servanthood’,” she noted. “Aristotle said our greatest virtues are those which are most useful to other persons.”
To add to her remarkable list of accomplishments, Merchant has earned both a Master of Quality Systems Management from the National Graduate School and a Master of Public Administration in Environmental and Emergency Management from George Washington University in Washington D.C. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Business Administration and is on track to earn the Ph.D. in Summer 2011.
Demonstrating exemplary leadership in achieving, valuing and managing diversity for the Coast Guard and her community, Merchant is a role model for public outreach and community service. While she dedicates the honors and awards to her mother and father as a way of paying her respects, her personal legacy will undoubtedly persevere in paving the way for future leaders.