U.S. Military Academy cadets did a virtual West Point STEM Outreach virtually with 20 eighth grade Design and Innovation Course students at Bridgetown Middle School in Cincinnati, Oct. 22.   (Courtesy Photo)
U.S. Military Academy cadets did a virtual West Point STEM Outreach virtually with 20 eighth grade Design and Innovation Course students at Bridgetown Middle School in Cincinnati, Oct. 22. (Courtesy Photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

For one who wishes to become an officer in the Army, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), the U.S. Military Academy or Officer Candidate School are the usual options to consider. However, how does one become inspired to make that life-changing decision?

“The LEADS program was the only influence I had in joining West Point,” Class of 2021 Cadet Lawrence Shepherd said as he explained his role as the cadet-in-charge of the event. During the event, 23 cadets interacted with Junior ROTC high school students for the virtual Leadership, Ethics and Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (LEADS) workshop on Friday. Out of the 23 cadets, 15 local Michigan cadets took part in coordinating the event.

Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School and Wayne Memorial High School were among the 20-plus Detroit area schools and JROTC programs with the highest number of students signed up to participate in the event.

Cadets helped students engage with each other in a virtual environment in the areas of leadership engagement, problem solving and making ethical decisions within the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Class of 2022 Cadet Hannah Blake said.

Blake, a Detroit native, was another cadet who was exposed to West Point through the LEADS program.

“When I was a high school student during my sophomore year, I got to interact with cadets and they really made a big impression on me, not necessarily because of the military side of it, but just in the way that they carried themselves,” Blake said. “So, when I went back my junior year, I was a lot more invested in the conference.”

On a related note, Shepherd, who applied to West Point as a result of attending a LEADS workshop in Detroit when he was in high school, added how the event inspired him to become an officer.

“I knew about ROTC and I heard about West Point, but I didn’t really know what (West Point) was until I took part in the event. Following that, it was the only thing that got me interested in applying to West Point because prior to the event, I had no interest in applying to college at all,” Shepherd said. “Seeing (African American) leaders from West Point that looked like me was also a big part of the reason I joined and it was the first time I was engaged by that many representatives from institutions of higher learning.”

Class of 2023 Cadet Alma Cooper, one of the facilitators of the event, never got a chance to experience LEADS in high school. However, she explained how humbling it was to watch young students look up prospective colleges and universities, whether it be West Point or joining ROTC post high school.

“This event was for students to hone in on the skills that leadership develops prior to them venturing to their chosen institution of learning,” Cooper said. “We talked about living honorably, being courageous and the different tasks leaders are faced with on a daily basis.”

Cooper added creating a personal connection with high school students who look up to cadets is the key to inspiring the positive choices they make during the event. Whether it’s creating effective leadership styles to properly navigate the mathematic and scientific realms of the event or simply becoming engrossed in the potential one can gain from applying to West Point, it boils down to the specific knowledge cadets offer to the high school students at the event.

“It’s about what you can offer them with the knowledge you gain as a cadet and it’s also about what I can learn from them to improve my ability to lead,” Cooper said. “The high school students really pushed me to be vulnerable with them—to share my stories, testimonies and the skills I learned at West Point in this new virtual environment. It was a great experience.”

For Class of 2022 Cadet Samantha Chinn, it was important to engage students from diverse backgrounds and find similarities between them that allowed the small group talks to flow organically. She explained that the Army creates decrees and oaths that help Soldiers define leadership and what it means to live honorably. Much of what the students talked about in relation to their idea of proper leadership was similar to what she believed in.

“Between the Army and civilian culture and cultures all over the world, we might see each other as different but in the end we all value the same things,” Chinn said. “We all value things like loyalty and respect, which are key characteristics that makes us all similar to some extent.”

The four cadets held unanimous beliefs on the importance of the LEADS program and felt that the virtual experience enhanced their leadership qualities with Shepherd expounding on what potential young upstarts need to be successful when applying to any institution of learning, whether it’s West Point or ROTC.

“The advice I would give is definitely take ownership in your own development and that starts with you being aware of who you are as a person. Self-awareness is a key component,” Shepherd said. “It is also important to understand where you need to be mentally to become an Army officer and then once you get a handle on those two points, you can figure out the path in-between so you can get to your own personal goal.”