Somewhere beneath the Pacific Ocean, while almost completely out of contact with the outside world, Shelbie Holland ’12 realized she was in her element. Last summer, the senior chemistry major from San Antonio, Texas, spent two months on board the USS Nebraska, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. “It was great. It was actually pretty spectacular,” Holland says.

The experience affirmed Holland’s desire to become a submariner. She had already applied for admission to the Navy’s Nuclear Power School, and after a series of interviews became the first female Norwich cadet accepted into a program that prepares officers to serve on submarines. She will be a member of only the third class of women to do so. “I think it’s great that women are able to serve on submarines,” says Holland. “Just like with anything else in life, as long as you can prove your worth and prove that you are a hard worker and that you can handle it, why not?”

The Navy lifted its ban on female crew members on submarines in 2010, joining the navies of Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and Canada in that regard.

Although Holland had initially enrolled at Norwich on an Army ROTC scholarship, she dropped it during sophomore year and then applied, successfully, for a Naval ROTC scholarship. “I wanted something more applicable to what I’m studying in school,” says Holland, who minors in physics. “I found out that the Navy was accepting females onto submarines, and I figured I would try to pursue that.”

Holland’s academic pursuits matched what the Navy seeks from candidates for Nuclear Power School, said Lt. Jarrod Gazarek, former Navy recruitment officer at Norwich. “The Navy is looking for people with a technical background,” he said.

She was notified of her acceptance into the program in January 2012, and credits Norwich with helping her prepare. “Norwich is really good at getting my self-esteem up and getting me ready for dealing with stress,”says Holland. “The whole Norwich experience has made me a well-rounded person, confident and well spoken. It helped me to succeed during my time on the submarine as well as when I went to my interview.”

In addition to six months of Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, S.C., Holland will attend Officer Candidate School and one of the Navy’s two Nuclear Power Training Units. The entire process will take more than a year.

And while there have been media reports of resistance to allowing women on U.S. submarines, Holland says she encountered no problems during her time on the Nebraska. “I don’t expect people to have too much of an adjustment issue,” she says. “Yeah, there’s going to be some growing pains initially, as with anything, but it’s a mission first. You say, ‘Yes sir,’ and you do it. People figure it out. It’s not hard.”

Excerpted from an article by Gary E. Frank, correspondent © March 1, 2012, Norwich University Office of Communications

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