HARTFORD, Conn. - One of the earliest female graduates of the Coast Guard Academy returned Friday to take over its top spot, becoming the first woman selected to lead one of the nation's five military service academies.

Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz was installed as the academy's 40th superintendent in a change-of-command ceremony Friday on the New London campus. She graduated from the academy in 1982, the third class to include women.

Stosz, 51, a native of Takoma Park, Md., takes over at the Coast Guard Academy amid a push to draw more women and members of underrepresented minority groups into the cadet corps.

This fall's incoming class has the most cultural and ethnic diversity in the academy's history. The Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Robert J. Papp, who presided over Friday's change-of-command ceremony, said that maintaining and expanding that diversity was key to the Coast Guard.

"That's the priority I am going to give her," Papp said of Stosz.

Stosz previously was the Coast Guard's director of reserve and leadership and also commanded two cutters during her 12 years at sea. They included an assignment as the first female commander of a U.S. icebreaker, the 140-foot Katmai Bay, in northern Michigan.

Stosz was a high school discus and swimming standout and a top scholar in her graduating class when she enrolled at the Coast Guard Academy in 1978, two years after it began admitting women. She said that her return was a sign of how far women had come in the service.

"We've come a long way, and I'm proud to be a role model," Stosz said Thursday. "But this really is part of a natural progression."

The academy has about 1,030 cadets in its four-year program. Students graduate with a bachelor of science degree and an obligation to serve five years in the Coast Guard.