Spring HS Navy JROTC Cadet Leaders Awarded Over $1 Million in Scholarships

Spring HS Navy JROTC Cadet Leaders Awarded Over $1 Million in Scholarships

May 08 2024

The Spring High School Navy JROTC unit is wrapping up another impressive year, passing their annual inspection by U.S. Navy officials with flying colors, while also celebrating college scholarships awarded to several of the program’s outstanding students.

Three top student leaders – now-former Commanding Officer Natalya Rivera, Executive Officer Cassidy Layne and Chief of Staff Aidan Jordan – were each awarded the U.S. Navy’s prestigious and highly competitive Four-Year National Scholarship, valued at roughly a quarter-of-a-million dollars, in addition to other scholarships earned by the trio.

When combined with Cadet Ryanna Forrester’s $100K-plus scholarship haul to attend Texas Woman’s University, the four seniors, between them, have amassed more than $1 million in scholarship awards.

Rivera started Navy JROTC as a freshman in Tomball ISD before moving to Spring ISD, where the students and teachers at Spring High School – including her Navy JROTC instructors, Master Chief Mark Clarke and Cmdr. Eric Lull – helped her feel at home, giving her a connection to a community and plenty of opportunities to keep busy.

“When I came here, it felt more like a family than a unit,” said Rivera, who this fall will join the ROTC unit at University of Houston, where she plans to major in psychology in hopes of eventually becoming a Navy Research Psychologist specializing in PTSD.

“It was like these bonds – these friendships – were more than just friendships, and the bonds I made with the instructors were more than just student and teacher,” Rivera said. “It’s more like a role-model figure for the future, of where I want to be one day. They’ve done it, and I want to be there too one day.”

Layne, who as the unit’s executive officer served as Rivera’s second-in-command, was also offered a Navy National Scholarship, together with an invitation to join the Navy Nurse Corps. The hard work she put in on that process gave Layne the confidence to pursue – and obtain – several additional scholarships, including a Huntsman Scholarship, a Spring ISD CTE Scholarship, and an academic merit scholarship from Texas Woman’s University, where Layne is headed in the fall to pursue her bachelor of science in nursing.

Although she won’t end up needing the Navy funds to achieve her goal of attending college without student debt, and has chosen the civilian path for now, Layne said that the initial scholarship application process with the Navy gave her added confidence to pursue other opportunities.

“I came in being very unsure of my potential,” Layne said, “so to have someone see something in me that I didn’t see, that means a lot, and that can do a lot. I don’t want to think about where I’d be otherwise!”

Jordan, meanwhile, who held several leadership roles in Scouting and in JROTC prior to spending his senior year as the regimental chief of staff for the Spring High School unit, also spoke about how his time in the program had changed his life and trajectory.

“It’s really impacted me,” said Jordan, who this fall joins the ROTC unit at Prairie View A&M University, where he plans to major in electrical engineering. Jordan’s grandfather on his stepmom’s side is a retired Navy chief and a former nuclear reactor operator on U.S. submarines. Jordan explained that it was conversations with his grandfather that ultimately inspired him to ask his instructors about what it would take to pursue a career as a U.S. Navy officer.

“I was originally going to enlist,” Jordan said. “I wanted to maybe be an ordinance operator or something like that, on carriers. And I was talking with him about this, and he was like, ‘No, you need to be an officer! You need to either go to the Academy or join ROTC.’”

Rivera, who has known and worked with Layne and Jordan throughout their high school years, added that the unit’s student leaders have all sharpened each other through the long days, challenging projects, and many ups and downs of their years together in Navy JROTC.

“Being together, as close as we have been for these years, we’ve seen the ugly sides of each other, and we’ve seen the pretty sides of each other – and we know how to bring out the best in each other,” Rivera said. “Communication is key; it sounds cliché, but it’s true. It’s so true!”

As the oldest of six siblings – and the first member of her entire extended family who will attend college – Rivera said the Navy scholarship was not only changing her life, but giving her an opportunity to inspire her younger nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters to pursue their goals, too.

“My entire life I’ve been the oldest sibling, so I’ve always had to lead by example,” Rivera said. “Being the commanding officer of this program, there were times that I really just wanted to give up and say ‘I’m done.’ But I knew the position I was in, and that I had all these cadets depending on my actions. If I just walked away from that, then I wouldn’t be able to watch my friends – my family – evolve to where they are now.”

Master Chief Clarke said that many cadets have to overcome daily challenges, both on campus and at home, but seeing soon-to-be graduates like Rivera and her fellow cadet leaders connect with such amazing opportunities for the future makes even the longest days as a JROTC instructor worthwhile.

“She’ll be the first in her family to ever go to college,” Clarke said. “That kind of gives you a different perspective on why you come here and do this job every day.”

It’s been a good year overall for JROTC programs across Spring ISD, including the Navy JROTC unit at Spring High School, the Navy JROTC unit at Dekaney High School, and the Army JROTC program at Westfield High School, where Lt. Col. Jacqueline Guillory and her Mustang Battalion cadets have once again earned coveted Gold Star status from the U.S. Army, scoring in the top percentile and being named an Honor Unit with Distinction for another 3-year period. 

Meanwhile, Chief Victor Adams, Chief Robert Dunn and their students in the Navy JROTC program at Dekaney are celebrating both an overall “Outstanding” review on this year’s unit inspection, and a very special milestone for one of their own who graduated last year – former Cadet Cmdr. Andrea Villareal, who after completing a successful year at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School is matriculating over the summer into the main Corps of Cadets at West Point on her way to a career as a U.S. Army officer.

“These kids, they deserve a good shot, and I’m happy we can come here and hold ourselves accountable to help them get what they need to be successful,” Clark said.

Source: Spring ISD

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