ROTC transforms students to leaders

Lt. Col. Paul Connor, who graduated from the University of Miami in 1993, has been working for the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.

He has been a rocket scientist and a medic; he has worked on projects involving nuclear weapons and classified data; he led humanitarian missions to Bangladesh and Timor Leste.

“They’ve got a half million to a million dollars invested in me,” Connor said. “Tell me another company that will do that for you.”

Connor spent his undergraduate years enrolled in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program on campus. ROTC is a college program used by the United States armed forces to train commissioned officers.

Because Connor participated in ROTC, he was able to receive a job with the Air Force.

UM is the local host school for the Air Force’s ROTC program in South Florida, and there are currently about 85 cadets enrolled in the program. These cadets include students from UM and colleges across South Florida, such as Florida International University and Miami Dade College.

“I like the camaraderie,” sophomore Patrick Kelly said. “My closest friends are cadets.”

In order to join the program, which lasts three to four years, students need to have a minimum 2.0 GPA and pass a physical assessment, said Capt. Jeffrey Nunez, the operations flight manager of the ROTC program.

Once accepted, cadets must maintain a 2.0 GPA and participate in physical training and leadership laboratories throughout the week.

“It forces me to grow up and learn time management with such a strict schedule,” Kelly said.  “I also learn to be disciplined, because unlike regular students, I cannot go out and have fun every day.”

For senior Anne Marie Peters, classes always come first, but ROTC is a close second. Peters received an ROTC scholarship her freshman year to attend UM, which came with a commission to work for the Air Force. After she graduates in December, she will serve as a meteorologist.

“I don’t have to practice writing a resume or practice interviewing at Toppel,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about internships because ROTC is my internship.”

Most cadets who want to receive commission for a job with the Air Force must first be accepted to and then complete a month of field training at bases in Alabama and Mississippi.

During field training, cadets learn about team dynamics and leadership. If they pass field training, cadets begin to apply for jobs once they return to their schools. The most popular career is a pilot, Nunez said.

But according to Peters, graduating with a job is not the only benefit of being a cadet. The weekly leadership labs help students learn more about leadership styles and how to become better leaders.

“I thought it was really cool to see how I grew as a leader,” she said.

For Connor, ROTC prepared him for military service, which is what he wanted to do since he was a child. Connor was named after his uncle, who died in the Vietnam War.

“We don’t do what we do to get rich, or to get famous,” he said. “We do what we do because we feel this higher calling. All of this is instilled from day one.”