The day after Abigale Wyatt received a bachelor's degree with honors in mathematics from the School of General Studies, she was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, the first Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) graduate at Columbia since 1973. She then headed from Morningside Heights to Pensacola, Fla., for pilot training.
The 26-year-old served 3½ years in the Navy before coming to Columbia in May 2012, part of a program for enlisted sailors to become officers called Seaman to Admiral for the 21st Century. “It was an amazing opportunity,” she says, “and the School of General Studies seemed like the perfect place for someone like me who did not have a traditional education, had taken some time off and spent time in the Navy.”
The School of General Studies was created in 1947 specifically for such "nontraditional" students, especially veterans returning from service in World War II. Of more than 600 student veterans currently enrolled at Columbia, some 300 are undergraduates at General Studies. Wyatt is one of 71 graduating from General Studies alone this year, the most ever.
Although the University has been involved in NROTC since the program was established in 1916, the Columbia program was dissolved in 1969 amid anti-war protests; the last of its students earned their commissions in 1973. Since then several Columbia students have participated in officer training at other institutions, including Nabiha Shaikh (GSAS'14) who attended the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Manhattan College and had a commissioning ceremony on May 20 in Faculty House. Wyatt is the first Columbia student in the University's NROTC program to be commissioned since it was reinstated in May 2011, when President Lee C. Bollinger and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed an agreement aboard the USS Iwo Jima declaring their intention to reinstate the program.
“In many ways, Abigale is the ideal GS student,” says Curtis Rodgers, vice dean of the School of General Studies. “Her experience in the Navy and time away from school allowed her to find her academic and intellectual paths. She is a both a scholar and a leader.”
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