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Saint Mary’s students hold top positions in ROTC

| Friday, April 21, 2017

Though they hold two of the highest-ranking student positions in Notre Dame Army, Navy and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Saint Mary’s seniors Emilie Vanneste and Megan O’Bryan salute the College for providing them with the confidence and leadership necessary to take on the roles of Army battalion commander and Air Force wing commander, respectively.

Vanneste said her and O’Bryan’s mental and physical strength qualifies them to play major roles in the program.

“It can run in anyone’s hands really, but it’s nice that we can take on that responsibility and put our foot in the door,” Vanneste said. “I think it’s a really unique thing because we’re not just a part of their program. We help develop it, we help improve it and we help make it what it is.”

Saint Mary's senior and Army battalion commander Emilie Vanneste accepts an award at the ROTC Pass in Review ceremony Wednesday.Michael Yu | The Observer

Saint Mary’s senior and Army battalion commander Emilie Vanneste accepts an award at the ROTC Pass in Review ceremony Wednesday.

According to Vanneste, a Saint Mary’s education prepares women to lead effectively by encouraging them to set and achieve challenging goals.

“They always say ‘We prepare our students to be confident and go into everything thinking they can come out on top,’” she said. “I really do think that has translated into my role.”

O’Bryan said the College’s emphasis on female empowerment enables her to reassure potential ROTC members who doubt their capabilities.

“I’ve had to talk to quite a few incoming freshmen for next year about my experiences in ROTC,” O’Bryan said. “The females always ask ‘Should I be nervous? Should I be worried about being a female in ROTC? Will I be treated differently?’ Being in the leadership position I’m in, I’ve been able to show them there is no difference.”

Seeing women in positions of power can motivate young girls to unapologetically pursue their ambitions, O’Bryan said.

“It kind of shows females the things that they’re able to do,” she said. “Do what you want to do. Do what you set your mind to.”

Through helping students discover their passions, Saint Mary’s ensures its graduates are well-equipped to set examples for others, Vanneste said.

“When I’m in classes at Saint Mary’s, it’s all females, but when I go across the street [for ROTC], females are a minority,” Vanneste said. “It just goes to show that my confidence doesn’t need to change whatsoever. It stays the same wherever I go.”

Vanneste said the lessons she learned from her involvement with ROTC reinforced the values and skills she developed at Saint Mary’s.

“It’s definitely opened my eyes and my perspective to what could be out there in the future, and how I could best benefit the greater good,” she said. “A lot of it goes with integrity, with doing the right thing when no one’s looking.”

O’Bryan said her peers at Saint Mary’s encourage her to believe she can successfully fulfill the role of Air Force Wing Commander, since female leadership at the College is normal and expected.

“I’ve always felt like I have a lot of support for the ROTC program — not even just friend-wise, but from the whole community,” O’Bryan said. “I’ve definitely learned not to be afraid.”

O’Bryan’s leadership position enables her to connect with other ROTC members who may be going through personal struggles, she said.

“It’s really helped me be able to talk to them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Do you want to grab coffee? Do you want to do something?’” she said. “I might do that normally, but I think I’ve been able to do that more often and be more comfortable doing that kind of thing.”

Vanneste said she hopes others realize students from Saint Mary’s are just as capable as those from Notre Dame. She said the Navy Battalion Commander for ROTC is a woman from Notre Dame — senior Katherine Smart — meaning all three of the highest-ranking positions in ROTC are held by women.

“Having the three female faces up there shows we’re here to stay, and we’re here to do just as good of a job,” Vanneste said. “It goes to show we are a presence, and we can do just as good of a job as the guy who came before us.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha