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The University of Pennsylvania's Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps in front of the Hollenback Center (Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Grandjean).

The University of Pennsylvania's Naval Reserves Officers' Training Corps offers a select group of Penn students the opportunity to be commissioned in the Navy immediately after college, to train among students from other Philadelphia colleges, and to have their university tuition covered. 

The NROTC’s primary focus is preparing students to enter the Navy immediately after graduation. The Penn NROTC unit — commanded by Colonel Vincent J. Ciuccoli — also has Drexel and Temple midshipmen. The group consists of around 40 people, according to Ciuccoli. 

“[All students] are kind of doing the same thing and have some of the same goals, at least when it comes to the military,” Ciuccoli said.

Some NROTC students knew that they wanted to join the military since they were young. 

“There was always positive sort of feelings around the military and my family. And that's because my grandpa was a veteran, and he was in the Korean War. My dad is also a veteran,” College junior Amanda Yagerman said.

Others, like Yagerman, were also influenced to join the NROTC by their military families. 

“I grew up in a military family and kind of saw the opportunities that the military can provide for someone in terms of career, lifestyle, and seeing the world,” Drexel junior Gabrielle Grandjean said. 

Students who made the decision to join the NROTC in high school needed to apply for a national scholarship during the college application season. The scholarship — which funds their entire college education — excludes room and board for Penn students but covers these expenses for Drexel and Temple students.

Recipients of the scholarship could use it at any institution they were accepted to, assuming that university has a NROTC unit. 

“It's like doing another college application alongside your other ones. It’s just the essay questions are a little more Navy-specific,” Yagerman said. 

NROTC students wake up early and walk to the Hollenback Center at around 6 a.m. for their training. Training — which consists of workouts, weekly leadership labs featuring guest speakers, and naval science classes — happens three to four times a week. 

“If the weather permits, then we will do the workouts outside, usually at Penn Park. Sometimes we have a fitness test once every semester, [and] we do that at Franklin Field,” Yagerman said. 

College junior Nolan Jacobs decided to become a part of the NROTC his sophomore year.

For Jacobs, having a strong NROTC community is key to helping him manage his stress and juggle responsibilities. 

“Having that motivation around you all the time helps you get up in the morning and helps you want to be the best person that you can be,” Jacobs said. 

While managing school life and life as a midshipman might be stressful, Yagerman explained that the process is rewarding. 

By the time they graduate and have gone through training, students are ready to join the military. 

“It's a little scary that we're gonna be in this huge position of responsibility over a year from now. But I'm generally very excited to get out there and start doing stuff,” Jacobs said.  

Ciuccoli expressed the importance of students having access to academic resources through NROTC as opposed to military academy training. 

“Being on a college campus, there is access to a wide range of academics that might be different from, say, a [military] academy. It makes a big difference,” Ciuccoli said. 

Grandjean added that the NROTC program is a valuable way for students to develop skills that are applicable to different fields and professions.

“I would say that the organization itself stands for something bigger because students from Penn are putting themselves in this program in order to develop their leadership skills. … I think it is something other students might be interested in if it was more advertised on campus. We're small, [but] if other students are interested in these opportunities, they can be a part of that greater goal as well,” Grandjean said.