Pitt-Bradford military science program has doubled in last decade

Keanu Sorbelli, a business management and accounting graduate from Wilkes-Barre, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army this spring. He is the most current commissioned Army officer produced by a growing military science program at UPB.

BRADFORD, Pa. — Dozens of University of Pittsburgh at Bradford students are learning that one class can teach them organizational, management and leadership skills and even show them a way to pay for college.

Over the last decade, the number of students taking military science courses has steadily increased, making its first leap around 2004, from one or two new students enrolling each year to eight or 10. Around five years ago, numbers began to climb again, slowly and steadily. Last year, 18 freshmen enrolled in Military Science 101, a two-credit, no-military-obligation course that teaches universally useful skills like time management and communication skills. Other perks of the class are free books and a lab that includes survival skills and paintball games.

In the fall of 2006, a total of 29 students were enrolled in one of the 10 military science courses offered. In the Spring 2014 semester, that number had more than doubled to 72.

On Tuesdays, when military science courses are taught, students in uniform are now a frequent sight in the Frame-Westerberg Commons as they make their way to and from lunch.

Alex Nazemetz, director of admissions, said he is seeing more interest in the programs from high school students, particularly in programs like nursing, due in part to the efforts of the region’s two recruiters for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Military science at Pitt-Bradford is a multi-way partnership between Pitt-Bradford, the Seneca Battalion Army ROTC at nearby St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., and the Pennsylvania National Guard. Students have a variety of choices, from signing a contract and joining the National Guard to competing for a national ROTC scholarship and being commissioned into the U.S. Army as a regular officer.

Sgt. 1st Class Warren Shaw, a graduate of Pitt-Bradford himself, and Sgt. 1st Class J.R. Page recruit students from throughout Western Pennsylvania as well as teach military science courses at Pitt-Bradford. They frequently set up information tables at Pitt-Bradford for those already in school and travel to scores of high schools.

Often while they’re recruiting, they have a current student in the program with them. High schoolers who visit the campus are paired with a current cadet. “It’s the kids who sell the program,” Shaw said.

The promise of a substantial aid package also helps. Students who join the National Guard can earn up to $13,000 per year for tuition, a $350 per-month stipend for living expenses and $1,200 per year for books. Students train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. They will have service obligations following their education, depending on how their agreement is structured.

Those obligations can be substantial – up to eight years – so while the money for college is important, Shaw said, the desire to serve must be the primary reason. Shaw gives them plenty of time to make a decision. Students can take classes for several semesters without joining the National Guard or ROTC.

“We want good decisions (about joining),” Shaw said. “Happy decisions.” Students who take the introductory course, Foundations of Officership, in the fall cannot join the National Guard until November, once they’ve had a little bit of experience with the program.

While the “pay-back” obligation can make some pause, for many other students following the recent recession, the promise of a guaranteed job is something that appeals, said Lt. Jared Kausner, recruiting operations officer for the Seneca Battalion.

Students can also take advantage of high-quality leadership training and internships that will give them an edge with employers. Students take classes at Pitt-Bradford during their first and second year, then travel to St. Bonaventure to take advanced leadership courses with juniors and seniors from all four colleges in the Seneca Battalion: Pitt-Bradford, St. Bonaventure, Alfred State SUNY College of Technology and Houghton College.

Through the Seneca Battalion ROTC, students can compete nationwide for a full ROTC scholarship.

That’s the route that 2nd Lt. Tiara Brown ended up taking. A 2013 graduate of Pitt-Bradford, Brown was a model cadet, who didn’t even know she wanted to go into the military when she came to campus as a nontraditional student.

“I needed to pay for college myself, and I was working 52 hours a week at McDonalds, plus at Tops,” she said in a phone interview from her current station in Fort Rucker, Ala., where she is learning to fly Apache helicopters for the Army.

When she saw a sign that said she could get paid to go to school, it seemed too good to be true. A former track runner, she had continued to work out and was in good shape. She talked with recruiters and took a physical aptitude test that she scored well on. Combined with good grades, it made her the top-ranked cadet in the battalion and earned her the chance to go to airborne school.

“I was always taught that when you’re given an opportunity, take it,” she said. So within a few months of seeing a recruitment poster in the Commons, she was jumping out of airplanes.

“It was a fantastic opportunity,” she said. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me at Pitt-Bradford, and it broke the barrier for me for a lot of things there. I speak wonders about the program. I already had a leadership foundation from my family and track, but it pushed my limits. It brought out things in me that I didn’t know I was capable of.”

Brown went on to become the first student not from St. Bonaventure to be the Seneca Battalion Commander in her senior year.

High profile students like Brown at Pitt-Bradford are helping to grow the program even more and helping Pitt-Bradford grow along the way.

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