Four Richards JROTC students get scholarships
BY MARI GRIGALIUNAS Correspondent May 25, 2012 9:56PM
Richards High School JROTC students Zhane Houston, (from left) Brianna O'Brien, Kathleen Spyrnal and Bleu Strong each received full ROTC college scholarships. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:13AM
When retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Doug Groters launched Richards High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program in 2004, he wanted to teach young people, whether or not they decided to pursue a military career.
“We’re not in the recruiting business,” said Groters. “We’re in the education business.”
However, when four of his Oak Lawn seniors decided to pursue Navy careers and received full ROTC scholarships worth $180,000 to do so, he couldn’t have been more proud.
“To have four apply and have four get accepted, we were just really excited.”
All four students applied online for their ROTC scholarships, but three of them also applied through their region, which includes 45 JROTC programs and succeeded in winning three of the 10 scholarships awarded to the region.
The fourth scholarship-winning student, Zhane Houston, did not apply regionally because scholarships for the naval nurse program she is pursuing only are awarded through the traditional nationwide application process.
Houston is on a waiting list for the University of Illinois’ premed program so she may attend Parkland College in Champaign for her first year and transfer to the U of I. Her scholarship applies to both schools.
“It’s going to be weird doing ROTC without you guys,” said Houston, looking at her classmates.
“We create another niche, another community for them that gives them a sense of identity and a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to a group,” said Groters of the Richards’ JROTC program that he teaches with Chief Dennis Reynolds.
Brianna O’Brien, fondly referred to as “Mama Cadet” by her younger classmates, said she will miss her JROTC community.
“I’ve spent the last four years of my life, everyday after school, working with these kids,” O’Brien said. “I’m excited to move on, but it’s going to be sad.”
She will begin at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., in the fall. Although she may have to study an engineering field because of her scholarship, she wants to pursue politics one day.
“She’s going to make a great congresswoman,” Groters said.
While O’Brien’s mom “made” her join JROTC (a push she now is thankful for), her classmate Kathleen Spyrnal gravitated toward the program.
“I always wanted to fly,” said Spyrnal, who will apply her scholarship toward Purdue University’s professional flight technology program.
According to Spyrnal, the program costs about $63,000 a year, a great deal more than standard tuition at the university.
“(Not getting this scholarship) would definitely deter my whole plan of going because I wouldn’t have enough money to actually get into the programs that I want to get into,” Spyrnal said. “I’d probably end up enlisting, if that was the case.”
Bleu Strong echoes Spyrnal’s comment.
“If I didn’t get this scholarship,” said Strong. “I was just going to enlist because my parents are putting my sister through college and it’s really hard on them.”
Unlike the other three winners, Strong plans to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R. I. After one year, given his continued academic success, he will be appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
While students in ROTC programs at traditional colleges commit to four years of service following graduation, academy students like Strong serve a minimum of five years.
“It’s a great way to serve, become a better person (and) be challenged,” Strong said about going to the Naval Academy.
Success stories like these four, Groters said, make his job worthwhile.
“The (most fun) thing for me is to watch the development of a person from a freshman to a senior,” said Groters. “Sometimes the stories aren’t good, but the ones that are, they’re just really, really great.”