By Brandon OConnorDecember 19, 2019
PHILADELPHIA-- The Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field and the Patriot Games events throughout the city takeover Philadelphia for a weekend each December.
With so much attention focused on the game and the two academies taking part, the U.S. Military Academy's Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity has found that the weekend makes a perfect opportunity to capitalize by reaching out to local high school students.
West Point annually hosts a Leadership, Ethics, Diversity and STEM workshop for high school students in the Philadelphia area prior to the game. This year's event took place at Temple University on Friday and included about 60 students who spent the day learning about morals and ethics from West Point cadets and taking part in a STEM workshop led by West Point professors.
"I really didn't know what to expect when coming into here, but it was a pretty cool experience to learn about the school and what it has to offer," said Cristian De Los Santos, an 11th grader at Gloucester County Institute of Technology. "I did not know much about West Point, but I learned a lot about what it has to offer."
The students who attended the annual event also had the chance to hear from and interact with three of the Soldiers who were selected as members of this year's Best of the Best as the top Soldiers in their career fields. The students were joined by Sgt. 1st Class Rolanda A. Wilder, the Army career counselor of the year; Staff Sgt. Earnest Knight, the Army Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Staff Sgt. Dakota A. Bowen, the Army noncommissioned officer of the year.
The three members of the Best of Best talked to the students about their careers in the Army, what motivates them and what joining the Army has done in their lives.
"What still motivates me today are the challenges, accepting challenges and not being scared or worried about what's going to come next," Wilder said. "Yes, sometimes I fall. Sometimes I might not reach where I was trying to go, but with every step that I take I do learn a lot. I've really appreciated that, and I am motivated by the challenges that the Army has placed in front of me."
Wilder and Knight spoke in the morning and then spent the first half of the day sitting in on a leadership, ethics and morals discussion led by West Point cadets. During the talk, the cadets spoke about their experiences coming from tough backgrounds to attending the academy. They also discussed the difference between ethics and morals and how West Point teaches them to be leaders in preparation to be officers in the Army.
Bowen talked to the students after lunch and used his experiences to teach the students to push themselves to reach their maximum potential and not to settle for less. Bowen was chosen as the top NCO in the Army this year, but he said the first time he interviewed for a Soldier of the month board he, "embarrassed himself," and barely knew anything except his name. After that experience, he said he resolved to never settle for less again and to push himself to be the best he could be.
"I made a promise to myself that I will never show up and embarrass myself, my family name or my unit that I'm representing at that level. It just became this competitive mindset that I will never let anybody, or anything limit me," Bowen said. "If (the standard) was a 300 on the APFT and you have to do this many pushups, this many sit ups and run this fast, I was like now let's see how much I can do, and I'll see what my personal standard is and I just always tried to one up it."
Along with hearing from the Best of the Best and learning about ethics, the students also spent time in a STEM workshop where they learned the basics of coding. Using a laptop and a basic motherboard, they had to build a circuit and then put the correct values into the code to make LED lights turn on.
The students also had the chance to learn about the West Point admissions process and ask questions of Col. Deborah McDonald, the U.S. Military Academy's Director of Admissions.