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ROTC head expands program, encourages student leaders

by Richard Veilleux - November 10, 2008


The Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) hosted at UConn is booming.

“Our mission last year was to graduate 13 cadets,” says Lt. Col. Christine Harvey, head of the Department of Military Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“We graduated 19. Now it’s 18, then it will be 20 next year, and 21 in 2011. We’ll surpass all the numbers.”

The department offers a range of courses that all ROTC cadets must take in order to graduate. The courses are also open to the general student population as electives.

When Harvey arrived at UConn in 2006, there were 36 students under “contract,” a term the Army uses to describe students who have signed paperwork committing them to four years of active duty after they graduate from college. At the start of this academic year, the number had increased to more than 70.

Most contracted students receive full scholarships for tuition and fees, paid by the federal government to the University. The total has doubled since Harvey arrived, to more than $950,000 this year.

In addition, students from 10 other colleges in Connecticut attend ROTC programming at UConn, the only university in the state to offer it.

Harvey, who went through an ROTC program herself at the State University of New York at Cortland, has worked hard to get the program where it is.

She also ran into a bit of luck: just as she was arriving, the Army lifted a cap on the number of scholarships programs could offer. That cap had hurt the efforts of her predecessor, Lt. Col. Paul Veilleux, to expand the program. But that wasn’t the only problem.

“When I got here in 2006, I was stunned by how many students I met that didn’t know there was an ROTC presence here,” Harvey says.

She decided to address the problem from the academic side first.

“There was a disconnect in the curriculum,” she says, “especially between the sophomore and junior years. The students were not ready to progress to the leadership course. And the quality of the training had to be improved.”

The training is rigorous. Contracted students (73 of the 101 currently enrolled) must be in the training room by 6 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for workouts, to prepare for the five-week course at Ft. Lewis, Wash., they’ll attend during the summer after their junior year.

The course can make or break their careers. All cadets in the country — more than 4,400 attended last summer – are assessed during the activity, and their scores determine whether they are given active duty status.

Lt. Col. Christine Harvey, center, head of the military science department, leads a group of Army ROTC cadets on a morning run.
Lt. Col. Christine Harvey, center, head of the military science department, leads a group of Army ROTC cadets on a morning run. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

The course also determines which career path they will be assigned to. A better rating gives students a better chance of being assigned to one of their first three choices.

“Over the years, students who lived far away were allowed to work out on their own rather than trek up here at 6 a.m.,” Harvey says.

“When two of our students failed the test in Washington, that ended. I brought the training standards higher and the kids stepped up, they rose to the challenge.”

Harvey has also made the program more interesting and more enjoyable, adding paintball guns to field maneuvers, giving leadership positions that had been the exclusive property of seniors to juniors, and letting the seniors design labs, teach, and mentor young cadets.

“We’re not doing the juniors any justice if we don’t let them have leadership roles,” she says. “And it’s working. Students are now talking about it on campus.”

Harvey has also pursued some marketing strategies. Husky ROTC T-shirts have been added to the green camouflage uniforms usually seen on campus, and baseball caps are coming soon. She worked with admissions director Lee Melvin, and UConn’s online application form now includes a question asking whether the applicant would like information about ROTC.

Flyers are also included in orientation packets. She and her top assistant, Master Sgt. Daniel Pinion, a senior military instructor, also plan to place ROTC brochures at various points around campus.

In addition, Harvey has partnered with the School of Nursing to try and inspire nursing students to join ROTC and become Army nurses – a critical need. The first nursing ROTC candidate was commissioned last May, another is scheduled to graduate in 2009, and four others are on track to graduate by 2011.

Harvey was scheduled to be rotated out of UConn in August 2010, but she petitioned for a fourth year so she could complete what she’s started in Storrs.

Her wish was granted — one of only 21 petitions to be honored in the country. Now, her last year at UConn will also be her 25th year in the Army.

Then, Harvey says, she will have a new mission – retirement.

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