Scholarships for Service

    They walk with impeccable posture and wear smart uniforms, attracting attention from all around. It seems there is a certain novelty in spotting men and women in uniform in a sea of students sporting UCSD sweatshirts and pajama pants.

    The uniformed students are enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, a program that allows college students to achieve military officer status while completing their undergraduate studies at a university. Distinctly separate from the recruitment of high school students soon after graduation, ROTC is aimed at training students to become college-educated military officers.

    “It’s to train you to become an officer in the Navy. It teaches you to be a leader for our great nation,” Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore and Navy ROTC student Jamie Johnson said.

    At the crack of dawn, UCSD students in ROTC make their way to the University of San Diego to take additional courses. The academic agenda in ROTC is challenging and is geared to be comprehensive not only in military science and engineering, but also in writing and history. Navy ROTC includes an entire year of Navy science courses, a year of calculus and several courses in computer science, weapons design and leadership.

    In addition, weekly drill meetings are held every Tuesday at 5:45 a.m. Dressed in uniform, students convene to take required attendance, meet up for formation and get a briefing on issues relevant to military life. Upon returning to UCSD, they have an obligation to wear their uniforms on campus.

    Every semester, Navy ROTC conducts a physical fitness assessment, including a swimming and sailing proficiency test. Community service and fundraising are important parts of the program, which can be especially demanding while taking a full load of university courses.

    The biggest drawback for ROTC students is the time commitment.

    “Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but it hasn’t been anything that is unimaginable,” said Earl Warren College sophomore Chad Allen, a Navy ROTC student. “It’s only two days a week, so it’s nothing that the average person shouldn’t be able to handle. It teaches time management.”

    The academic load and physical demands of the program may sound unattractive to some, but there is much to inspire the students who join ROTC.

    One incentive is the financial support it offers. ROTC students at UCSD receive full scholarships for their academic tuition, earning about $20,000 to $25,000 during their time spent in the program. In addition to the scholarship, students receive about $250 a month as a stipend with an incremental increase of $50 a year.

    Students have the option of leaving the program during their freshman year if it is not what they had expected. However, if a student resigns his or her position as an ROTC student after freshman year, that student is automatically relocated to enlistment service, which greatly reduces their chances of becoming an officer.

    Although a full scholarship may sound tempting, there is a catch. Students who make the commitment to ROTC must devote eight years of their lives as military officers after graduation. Four years of active service are followed by four years as an on-call reserve officer.

    “When you get out into the Navy, you have a guaranteed job, and you’re getting paid,” said Johnson, who is training to become a Navy officer and a pilot. “I definately think it’s worth it.”

    But some students say there is more to the ROTC experience than the monetary gains. Earl Warren College junior and Navy ROTC student Jonathan Lim, who will be an officer by age 22, said the leadership experience and the challenges it brings are the most rewarding aspects of the program.

    “I wanted the life and leadership experience,” Lim said. “I think everyone needs to pay their dues to themselves, to give perspective in life. You have to go through some hardships to go through life.”

    The concept of being in the military becomes a blinding reality when students are given the opportunity for hands-on experience with equipment, machines, aircraft and submarines.

    “It’s a lot more intense when you’re in the situation,” Lim said. “You can always just talk about what it’s like, but when you’re out at sea in a submarine, it’s very different.”

    The prestige of being in the military is simply a fringe benefit to some ROTC students.

    “I like the military lifestyle, and I like the idea of serving my country,” said John Muir college freshman and Air Force ROTC student Amber Rounce. “People think the military is just about wars, but you can have all sorts of professions, like being a doctor.”

    Family tradition in the military is also a major motivation to complete the ROTC program. Rounce, like other children of parents in the Navy (known by some as “Navy brats”), feels driven to follow her parent’s footsteps.

    According to Rounce, there are few women who enroll in the ROTC program; only 20 percent of ROTC students are women. Even with few women in the military — and particularly few in ROTC — women are treated with equal levels of respect, Rounce said, describing the atmosphere as a brother-sister relationship among the men and women.

    “They’re respectful, but I think women could take more initiative in leadership roles in this country,” she said.

    In addition to the leadership skills offered in ROTC, the opportunity to travel is another motive that drives ROTC students. The largest Navy bases are in San Diego, but there are others in many locales, including Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

    “During the summer while we’re students, we have a training program that’s implemented in units across the nation, and you get to experience different cruises,” Johnson said. “As a pilot, you’ll be abroad on ship and travel around the world.”

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