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cadet blogs

ORCA Explained

(Academics, Class of 2017) Permanent link
Seaman Photo Hello! I recently had a prospective cadet email me with some questions about the Operations Research and Computer Analysis (ORCA) major, so I thought I would share part of my answer with anyone else who is wondering about it.


There are many classes specific to this major (mostly math). The major-specific classes I have taken so far are Multivariable Calculus; Linear Algebra; Differential Equations; Discrete Math; Linear Optimization; Probability Theory; Networks and Nonlinear Optimization; and Computer Modeling Languages. And I'm currently taking Information Systems, Mathematical Statistics, and Probability Models. I realize that might just sound like a bunch of words, but email me if you are interested in knowing what some of those classes are all about and I can go into more depth.


Aside from the major-specific classes, there are quite a few general requirements everyone must take throughout the four years. Major-related courses start your 3/c or sophomore year but a lot of times you can still switch majors during 3/c year because certain programs have a little overlap (many of the majors have to take Differential Equations, for example). Your 4/c or freshman year, everyone takes the same classes (Calculus 1 and 2, Chemistry 1 and 2, History, English, etc.). The purpose of that is to develop well-rounded people because, as officers, even if we are doing engineering jobs, the stuff we learned in English will help us in the fleet whether it is writing evaluations or something else. In addition, it allows you to see your strengths and helps with picking a major that is a good fit for you. Your 3/c year is when your classes are tailored to your major and then 2/c year is when you are really taking fun major-related classes. We also have to take general requirements throughout the four years. Those are classes like Physics, Navigation, Morals and Ethics, Criminal Justice, Government, and Maritime Law Enforcement. Everyone has to take Chemistry and Physics because every degree the Academy offers is a Bachelor of Science.


As far as ORCA goes, it is essentially all about using math and computers to make things more efficient, even with limited resources. Therefore, we take math optimization classes and learn how to program with Java to be able to solve certain problems that are brought to us. This major is very Coast Guard applicable since the Coast Guard performs so many missions, but also does not receive very many funds to do them. So an operations researcher would use their background in math and computers to schedule employees and distribute billets; allot aircraft to different stations; and find the shortest amount of time it would take a cutter to reach 10 buoys that need to be tended and go back to home port (important to save crew morale and fuel). In short, the application of the major is to find ways to maximize mission effectiveness and efficiency through logistics.


Your first billet after graduating is not major-specific; it can be attending flight school, serving as a student engineer or deck watch officer on a cutter, or working at a sector. Your billets afterward are really when you would start using your major. Also, the majority of officers go to grad school as well, so you could do a multitude of jobs in the Coast Guard or private sector depending on what your master’s is in.


I really hope this was helpful in answering any questions you might have had about ORCA. As always, if you have more questions, do not hesitate to email me.


More about Rachel.