Editor's note: Joanna Chen is a sophomore in materials science and engineering and a Midshipman 3rd Class in the NROTC program. She also competes for MIT's Varsity Track and Field Team and enjoys volunteering for the American Red Cross Team and Network and being a part of InterVarsity's Asian Christian Fellowship.
Every Wednesday, midshipmen walk around campus in uniform, drawing the eyes of other students in their immaculately polished shoes and crisply tucked blouses. Many of us have been approached by strangers and friends alike and, after telling them that we are midshipmen in the Naval Reserve Officer Traning Corps (NROTC) — a program that trains college students to become officers in the United States Navy and Marine Corps — are asked the question: “What exactly do you do?”
Regardless of your year in the program, every midshipman is committed to dedicating numerous hours every week to ROTC. Along with weekly physical training and naval science classes, every week the battalion comes together for Leadership Lab. When most students hear ‘lab’ they think of scanning electron microscopes and soldering irons, but Navy ROTC Leadership Lab is completely different.
The structure of Leadership Lab changes depending on the week and the training required. Guest speakers come in from across and outside of the Institute, we receive briefs on naval regulations, and we practice drill — all of this is organized by midshipmen staff. This semester, there was a stronger emphasis on raising awareness in the battalion on geopolitical issues, as well as practicing public speaking skills. Cameron McCord, a senior and this semester’s battalion commander, said the following when asked about this focus:
"Geopolitical issues and global instability questions are much more complex and have more far-reaching repercussions than ever before. From the Arab Spring to the sale of a Russian carrier to the Chinese navy to Iran's potential nuclear weapons threats, there are numerous challenges that America and the U.S. military will face. It is our responsibility and our duty as future Naval and Marine Corps officers to know as much about this changing world as possible. As future officers, effectively speaking to the men and women we will lead, and being able to successfully convey our ideas, is paramount. We chose to make public speaking an integral part of our training this semester to give everyone valuable practice organizing their thoughts, summarizing information, arguing opinions and briefing groups of people."
This semester, that’s exactly what we got. During one lab, midshipmen had the opportunity to listen to a panel of professors speak about their visions for the future of the navy. In another, midshipmen were put into teams to debate topics, such as whether Harry Truman made the right decision by bombing Hiroshima. Activities such as these gave midshipmen the opportunity to learn hands-on and to think critically about the real world.
All in all, the purpose of Leadership Lab is to prepare midshipmen to enter the Fleet and be effective leaders. Knowledge of what’s happening around the world and the ability to communicate effectively are important steps to becoming better officers.