Seventy years after the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps found its home at Cornell, NROTC leaders paused to reflect this month on how the program has evolved over the decades at the University.
NROTC, which aims to train and educate future naval officers and marines, created a program at Cornell because of the University’s strong engineering curriculum, said Lt. Commander Joseph John Kato, University senior lecturer in naval science.
But while Cornell’s NROTC program began with a more technical focus, designed to train officers to enter the U.S. Navy after graduation, its curriculum today is more flexible. The program is based on developing students’ leadership skills, according to several of its leaders.
Kato said that Cornell’s program, compared to other units across the country, is particularly accommodating of — and even encourages — students’ academic pursuits.
“The academics are so hard here and the absolute most important thing is academics ... The one thing we do not want to do is to waste our students’ time,” Kato said.
He added that because midshipmen — students in NROTC — must go through both Cornell’s selective admissions process and the NROTC program’s admissions process to participate in Cornell NROTC, they are considered “the best and the brightest” in the country.
“They have skills like time management ... and they are driven,” Kato said. “We can give them a lot of responsibility at the very beginning ... I was really impressed by how quickly they learn.”
The program follows a “4-step process,” according to Kato. Midshipmen are taught to follow others during their freshman year, said Kato, who added, “It’s harder to be a good follower than you think.”
Sophomore midshipmen learn to mentor incoming freshmen; juniors learn about management; and seniors learn more leadership skills and adopt additional responsibilities in their unit, according to Kato.
Prof. Lt. Colonel Craig Wiggers, naval science, the commanding officer of Cornell NROTC, said that the midshipmen in the unit — which consists of 18 Navy officers-in-training and seven students training to join the Marine Corps — are “top-notch.”
He said that Cornell NROTC also encourages midshipmen to get involved in additional on-campus clubs and activities.
“We are very attuned to the other activities on campus,” said Wiggers, who said he wants the NROTC community to be an active part of the larger Cornell community. “We want to be team players here on campus.”
One student who recently joined the program, Brian George ’16, said NROTC has provided him with “great leadership opportunities” at Cornell.
George said he was inspired to enter NROTC because of his desire to “give back to my country.”
“I benefit from a lot of the freedoms in America, so I feel like I have an obligation to give back,” he said.
As the midshipmen prepare to formally celebrate NROTC’s 70th anniversary at its annual Birthday Ball on Oct. 19, they have been busy looking back at the program’s past, Kato said.
The unit even successfully acquired an NROTC yearbook from the 1940s, according to Kato. It will present some of its research on NROTC’s past at the ball, Kato said.
“That’s where we’re presenting the fruits of our labour,” he said.