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Culture of Excellence: SEA Faculty Advisors Reflect on Positive Change during Women's History Month

10 March 2020

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derien Luce

"I remember when I joined the Navy; I didn't even think about going to a ship," said Master Chief Information System Technician Tiffany Laitola, a faculty advisor at the Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) at Naval Station Newport with a Master of Science in information ...

“I remember when I joined the Navy; I didn’t even think about going to a ship,” said Master Chief Information System Technician Tiffany Laitola, a faculty advisor at the Senior Enlisted Academy (SEA) at Naval Station Newport with a Master of Science in information technology management: information assurance/security and digital forensics. “Then, when I left school with orders to the Eisenhower [an aircraft carrier] as part of one of the first groups of females to ever be aboard a combatant ship, my chief looked at me and said, ‘you’re making history right now, do you know that?’”

Today, women serve in every rank from seaman to admiral. According to Laitola, as faculty advisors at SEA, Senior Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman Amyshirelle Santos, Senior Chief Yeoman Karen Tower, and her provide senior enlisted leaders with the tools to effectively lead the fleet and engage in conversations to spark innovation for the future.

“The facilitation and the hard conversations that we have here involve a lot of self-reflection, and we challenge people in order to help them grow as leaders,” said Santos, who has an associate degree in general studies and a Bachelor of Science in supervision. “Without mentorship, you can’t get anywhere. No one is born knowing all the answers, and we’re facilitating topics with leaders to help Sailors not make the same mistakes we might have. Let us help you, that’s what mentorship is about.”

Laitola added that although she has experienced hardships as a woman serving in the military, one way she feels we can grow as a Navy is by having open and honest dialogue about these issues. This is the mindset they promote at the SEA to ensure future Sailors do not have to experience the same adversities.

“I had a lot of struggles as a junior Sailor,” said Tower, who has an Associate of Science and a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education. “If someone can learn from my struggle and then not have to go through it themselves, then why wouldn’t I try to pass that advice on to them?”

Tower goes on to say that having knowledge passed down from her leadership was something she wished she had had more of as a junior Sailor. Tower believes teaching leaders to do it now is a key building block in creating the “Culture of Excellence” the Navy is striving for.

As an overarching movement underway within the Navy, the Culture of Excellence is bringing together a myriad of existing and new programs that will develop toughness, trust and connectedness in every Sailor, civilian and family member. This proactive approach to making the Navy a better place to live and work relies in part on leveraging diversity through inclusion, by identifying obstacles at the individual, group and organizational level and working together to resolve them.

“We’re very adamant about cultivating a Culture of Excellence,” said Laitola. “Part of that is having open and honest communication and holding people accountable when something is wrong no matter how minute it might seem. During the (SEA) course, we encourage our senior enlisted to think about what their Sailor might be going through and to take a step back to look at it from a different perspective.”

Santos agreed that gaining perspective is one of the most important parts of the training they give at the SEA, and meeting Sailors from different rates and areas of the Navy is an invaluable tool to build better leaders.

“Think about everything we have to offer, not even just as females but as humans,” said Santos. “If you discount any demographic or any point of view, then you’re eliminating knowledge and experience. It’s not about male vs. female or junior vs. senior enlisted, it’s about the Navy and creating a Culture of Excellence.”

Tower expanded on what her idea of a Culture of Excellence was by saying she thinks it is about equal opportunity and everybody getting the chance to succeed or fail. We learn what needs to be changed or improved through our failures.

“I understand that change is uncomfortable,” said Tower. “But change is necessary, and I’m happy to be part of this team because we foster change here. I think it’s important for those all people, who don’t like change, to come here and broaden their horizons.”

Laitola, Santos and Tower have 68 years of combined service in the Navy. They all feel the Navy is changing for the better and are gratified knowing that they are key players in making the ideas for a better fleet a reality.

“The mindset is changing,” said Santos. “To know that gone are the days where someone is judged based on their gender makes me ecstatic. Knowing that people are being judged off their character and their expertise is amazing, and we can’t go anywhere but up from here.”

The SEA is a 10-week leadership development program for active and reserve senior enlisted leaders from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard, as well as from our international service partners, for increased leadership and career advancement. SEA focuses on management, leadership, national security and physical fitness.


To learn more about the Navy’s Culture of Excellence, read NAVADMIN 254/19.

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