Julianne Nordhagen ’17 didn’t intend to join the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at her high school in Boca Raton, Fla.
“I thought it was just another science class because it showed up as nautical science,” Nordhagen said. “My adviser said, ‘Congratulations, you joined the Naval ROTC program.’ To which I replied, ‘I’m sorry. I’m a cheerleader, what is that?’”
With encouragement from her parents, Nordhagen forged ahead with JROTC and found a perfect fit.
“In high school, I liked the discipline aspect of it, being a really active and involved student,” Nordhagen said. “Then once I got to USC and started to experience the real Navy, I found the camaraderie to be unlike any other organization.
Nordhagen didn’t know anyone going to USC from Florida, but she made friends in the ROTC program after getting here. There were travel opportunities as well, resulting in trips to London, Southeast Asia and South Africa.
It’s a long commitment
Last semester, Nordhagen served as Naval ROTC Battalion Commanding Officer, which made her accountable for all aspects of USC’s Naval ROTC operations, while pursuing her degree in industrial and systems engineering. She’ll finish at USC in December, then head to Pensacola, Fla., where she’ll train to be a Naval Aviator. Competition for Navy pilot slots is intense, and Nordhagen will be one of relatively few females to earn one.
“It’s more competitive to become an aviator than almost any other field, regardless of gender,” said Lt. Col. Olivia Nelson of Air Force ROTC at USC, who has watched the emergence of Nordhagen’s leadership skills.
“It takes a lot of poise and moral courage to be in a leadership position,” Nelson said. “When you consider that Julianne led her peers as Battalion Commanding Officer, it really speaks volumes about her. She’s in for a 10-year commitment, and that shows her value system is about service and leadership.”
Nordhagen is undaunted by the decade-long commitment to the Navy, especially when she thinks about flying fighter jets.
“I’ll be 32 before I can even think about doing something else, but I want to be a pilot,” she said. “Between my junior and senior year, I spent a full month with a helicopter squadron stationed in San Diego and I loved it. I knew then I had to be an aviator.”
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