Erin Papakostas ‘23
Although military values are not always associated with a liberal arts education, Davidson’s century-old Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) has shown that the two can go hand in hand. In the wake of Veterans Day, The Davidsonian takes a look back at alumni who served in uniform and the students on campus training to be both officers and scholars.
An initial ROTC program was first introduced at Davidson in 1917, the same year the U.S. entered World War I. The program’s founder, Captain J.W. Lea, was assigned to Davidson College to train student volunteers for the war effort. In 1919, the ROTC program was officially established at the college.
Prominent Davidson ROTC graduates include former Secretary of State Dean Rusk and former Davidson College President Dr. John Kuykendall, as well as more than twenty-five general officers.
Davidson College alumni have served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. A college war memorial, located near Eumenean and Philanthropic Halls, contains the names of 193 alumni who lost their lives in these conflicts.
Retired US Navy Captain Jane Campbell ‘87, who grew up in an army family, emphasized the importance of a liberal arts background in educating military officers.
Those with a liberal arts education “are better at […] understanding people and understanding what it takes to be a true leader,” Campbell stated. According to Campbell, people with a liberal arts background recognize a wider worldview and excel at critical thinking.
Campbell trusts that a Davidson education teaches ethical leadership—a paramount concept in the military. “We have a Code of Ethics, and it’s something I would never even question in any Davidson graduate.”
Ultimately, ROTC doesn’t just prepare students for military service, Campbell noted. “Davidson students who were part of ROTC still went off to become doctors and lawyers and every combination of specialty,” she commented.
Davidson’s ROTC program currently has fifteen cadets, and the program is a satellite school for the 195-student ROTC program at UNCC. Other satellite schools include Gardner-Webb and Winthrop University.
Cadet Scott Stegall ’20 received a four-year ROTC scholarship to Davidson, and currently serves as the Executive Officer of the UNCC 49er Battalion. He explained how his grandfather’s stories from serving in World War II impacted his personal mission to join the military: “Being so far away from home and making all the sacrifices for a cause greater than him — that was a big reason why I wanted to serve.”
In high school, Nathanial Wellborn ’20 had been vaguely interested in a career in the military, which he attributed to “American fascination with a source of job security.” Right now, many of his friends are looking for jobs. Wellborn remarked, “For better or worse, my fate is sealed.”
Claire Hendrix ‘23, a first-year pre-med student, Bonner Scholar, and ROTC cadet is hoping to attend medical school to become an army doctor. To Hendrix, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a job opportunity waiting for her that she knows will be fulfilling because she’ll be serving her country.
“Service is a very big part of who I am. And it’s a lot of what makes my time at Davidson great and meaningful,” Hendrix said of both her time as a Bonner scholar and in ROTC.
Wellborn admits that he might not have joined ROTC at a big state school where the program might include between 50 or 200 people. He considers it to his advantage that he did ROTC at Davidson. His ROTC friends are his core group on campus. “We knew we were in it together for at least three or four years. It’s really nice to have that kind of community as soon as you get to Davidson.”
The cadets have physical training three mornings a week from 6:00 to 7:00 am, and workouts can vary each day. Stegall explained that the training complies with army standards so the drills could consist of calisthenics, running, and occasionally weightlifting.
To an ROTC cadet, waking up early is a part of the daily routine. “It’s not always easy, but it’s manageable,” Stegall stated. Hendrix claimed the only real difference between her schedule and someone who doesn’t do ROTC is her day starts and ends earlier. “I would never describe myself as a morning person. But I do what I do because I know that in the end, it’s going to be worth it,” Hendrix said.
The cadets take fitness tests at least once a semester, which as Stegall described, “is always something to look forward to and stress out over.”
“The good thing about ROTC is there’s a lot of room for improvement. The reason that there’s so much room for improvement is because people fail a lot. So, we’re just like anybody else,” he added.
These students also take one ROTC class per semester. And while the class shows up on the transcript, Wellborn said, the students do not receive any credit. The class takes place at Davidson until senior year, when students drive to UNCC for a weekly two-and-a-half-hour class.
Each year, the classes become more challenging and specific. “By junior year, you’re really in it,” joked Stegall. He explained that for first-years, the class consists of understanding broad concepts, but as the students advance, the topics become narrowed to discuss tactics and strategy. “Anything from leading an infantry squad and attack to finding a point and blowing it up,” Stegall explained.
Their commitments do not end at physical training and ROTC class. Every semester, the cadets participate in Saturday labs by either going to UNCC or staying at Davidson to have eight to ten hour training blocks. They practice land navigation or battle tactics—a hands-on approach to what they learn in the classroom.
Student commitment level increases as students assume a staff position as upperclassmen. For the juniors, these roles could include running blood drives, which usually happens twice a semester, or someone in charge of the training events. By senior year, Stegall said, most students at Davidson rotate through battalion-level leadership. “Generally several of the seniors will not only be leaders at Davidson, but they will have leadership positions as part of the larger battalion at Charlotte.”
For Stegall, his future will mean going active duty in the military. After graduation, he’ll participate in a Basic Officer leadership course and then receive his assignment. He says his first assignment will likely be leading a platoon.
Wellborn has been confirmed for active duty from ROTC and will find out his specific position next week. Wellborn hopes to receive one of his top three positions in either infantry, armor, or field artillery.