Future Leaders: First Class Cadet Daria McKenna

Leading up to the 2018 Commencement, Compass will be featuring several outstanding cadets in the Future Leaders series.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin

Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna poses for a photo between Hamilton Hall and Chase Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna poses for a photo between Hamilton Hall and Chase Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

When things are going right there is nobody more popular on the college campus than the student-athlete, the gifted cadet who can sink a basket or get that vital first down.

Even better is the athlete who can step into the classroom and hold their own against cadets who do not have extracurricular commitments.

Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna attacks on the field and in the classroom.

Swab Daria McKenna stands ready to receive orders during Reporting-in Day at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., June 30, 2014. Reporting-in Day is the first day of a cadets four-year journey to become a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard Academy photo.

Swab Daria McKenna stands ready to receive orders during Reporting-in Day at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., June 30, 2014. Reporting-in Day is the first day of a cadets four-year journey to become a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard Academy photo.

In the classroom, McKenna is majoring in Operations Research and Computer Analysis, which instructs cadets in mathematics, statistics and computers, and how these analytical methods can be used to analyze complex problems and improve decision-making.

“I chose to go into ORCA because math has always been a challenge to me,” said McKenna. “I like problem solving and a good challenge.”

McKenna has also been active in the Coast Guard Academy’s chapter of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences as vice-president of the club her junior year and president her senior year.

INFORMS is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to and promoting best practices and advances in operations research, management science, and analytics to improve operational processes, decision-making and outcomes. Part of McKenna’s job as the president of the INFORMS Academy chapter is to organize events for the ORCA majors to engage and learn from others in their field.

One of the events organized by the INFORMS Academy chapter this year was the 2018 Service Academy Student Mathematics Conference, where the Coast Guard Academy hosted more than 30 of the service academies’ brightest cadets and midshipmen from the Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy to present their senior research project to an audience of their peers.

During this event, McKenna along with members of her capstone team, First Class Cadets Dana Rohde, Vicky Talens, and John Groen presented their capstone project Finding Saturated, Stable Matches for 3/c Summer Training Assignments.

“For their capstone problems, the Coast Guard Academy cadets differ from the other service academy students because they are given Coast Guard centric problems from operational units,” said Cmdr. Ryan Hamel, an instructor in the ORCA program. “Each year we solicit problems from operational units then assign the problems to our ORCA teams. The cadets are solving problems that relate to the Coast Guard and can help the Coast Guard.”

McKenna’s group’s capstone project, if implemented by the Academy, may improve how cadets get assigned to operational units across the country during the summer.

“McKenna has an impeccable work ethic,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Williams, one of McKenna’s ORCA advisors. “Her attention to detail, willingness to grapple with challenging material, and commitment to excellence make her one of the best student’s I’ve ever worked with on a senior project.”

U.S. Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna, an attacker on the Women's Lacrosse team, makes her entrance onto the playing field at the Academy for a match against St. Joseph's College, March 3, 2018. The Bears beat the Golden Eagles 22-16, with McKenna scoring 5 goals. This game was the third straight win for the team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Brad Clift.

U.S. Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna, an attacker on the Women’s Lacrosse team, makes her entrance onto the playing field at the Academy for a match against St. Joseph’s College, March 3, 2018. The Bears beat the Golden Eagles 22-16, with McKenna scoring 5 goals. This game was the third straight win for the team. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Brad Clift.

When she is not in the classroom, McKenna is part of the Women’s Lacrosse team as an attacker. As the program enters its fourth year at the Division III level, McKenna will be the first four-year player to graduate from the program.

“It feels great to be the one to break this milestone,” said McKenna. “But I am even more excited that the program continues to grow and more women get the opportunity to play.”

The New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference consists of 11 highly selective institutions committed to academic excellence: Babson College, Clark University, U.S Coast Guard Academy, Emerson College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Wellesley College, Wheaton College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“In the two years that I’ve coached Daria, she has truly grown into her own both as a leader and a lacrosse player,” said Women’s Lacrosse Coach Mary Heneberry, who earned 2018 Conference Coach of the Year honors. “The coaches and her teammates recognize Daria’s constant support of each individual and diligent work ethic. She’s very humble and selfless, and that translates to her play on the field. We’re so proud of the things she’s accomplished during her time here and are excited to see her excel even more in the fleet.”

McKenna also finishes the year as the first player in the program’s history to reach 100 career points.

“I am honored to have been the first to accomplish this goal,” said McKenna. “I am excited to watch it get broken again and again by the next set of women players.”

During the 2018 season, she was fourth in the league in points with a single season team record of 73 points and 14th in goals with 36.

McKenna has been the named to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Women’s Lacrosse Academic All-Conference Team for the past three years.

Honorees must have met the following criteria: earned a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5/4.0 scale or 4.35/5.0 scale after the fall semester, achieved second year academic status at her institution, and been a member of the varsity team for the entire season.

“It feels good to excel both in athletics and academics,” said McKenna. “The Coast Guard Academy gives cadets the opportunity to be both. It is possible.”

McKenna is also a member of the Coast Guard Academy Student-Athletic Advisory Committee. The mission of this club is to forge the optimal athletic experience for all Coast Guard Academy student-athletes. With a broad range of representatives from each of the Coast Guard Academy’s varsity athletic teams, the SAAC aims to create an athletic platform that allows student athletes to utilize their leadership potential. The Coast Guard Academy SAAC believes community service is paramount; committed to service above self.

As part of the SAAC, McKenna represents Coast Guard Academy Athletics as a whole and the Women’s Lacrosse Teams at different events.

Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna poses for a photo with her parents. Both of McKenna's parents graduated from the Coast Guard Academy. Photo courtesy of the McKenna family.

Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Daria McKenna poses for a photo with her parents. Both of McKenna’s parents graduated from the Coast Guard Academy. Photo courtesy of the McKenna family.

McKenna attributes her success in academics and athletics to the women in her family and life who have paved the way for her. Her mother, Tamara McKenna, is a 1987 Coast Guard Academy graduate, who after leaving active duty in the Coast Guard came back to the Academy and is currently part of the staff in the Athletic Department.

“Growing in Mystic, Connecticut, we always had several sponsor cadets and members of the women’s athletic teams in our house,” said McKenna. “They were my role models.”

Although McKenna is not the 2018 cadet with the home closest to the Academy, she has had the ability to walk to her mother’s office across campus when she needs to be near family.

“Every day is a blessing to be near my mom,” said McKenna. “Most of the time I am not the only cadet visiting her for motherly support. She has been a rock for so many other cadets. She also bakes.”

Upon graduation, McKenna will report to the Coast Guard Cutter Willow, a 225-foot sea going buoy tender homeported in Charleston, South Carolina.

The cutter’s primary missions are aids-to-navigation, law enforcement, and search and rescue. The Willow also performs missions such as ice breaking, marine environmental protection, and living marine resources. This cutter is responsible for servicing 257 aids-to-navigation in the 7th District ranging from South Carolina down to the Caribbean, including Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

“The Willow is my first pick and I couldn’t be happier,” said McKenna. “I am excited to see what types of challenges I can attack on this tour.”

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