Claire Fahy & Rebecca Siegel
As seniors weigh various factors like financial aid options or a suburban vs. an urban campus in their college decisions, a small few look for unique programs specializing in military service.
Lenka Fejt (’97) and Juliana Rotter (’05) decided to pursue an education with a military focus. Fejt attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings
Point, N.Y., and Rotter entered the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (Navy ROTC) program as a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I came out of Convent more liberal-arts-oriented,” Fejt said. “For my community service project, I worked with Merchant Marine guys, who I thought were really cool. That influenced my decision to go to the Merchant Marine Academy.”
Two courses of study are available for incoming cadets at the Merchant Marine Academy. They can either pursue an education in engineering — a more physically demanding, and therefore male dominated route — or, as a deck officer — a less demanding and more coed course of study.
“It was more appropriate for women to study to be deck officers because there are fewer physical requirements,” Fejt said.
As a cadet, Fejt pursued a now-terminated course that combined both the Deck Officer and the engineering programs.
Identified as a more engineering-focused school, MIT founded its Navy ROTC program in 1956, which has grown to include neighboring Harvard and Tufts Universities.
“The problem-solving that engineers are responsible for leads to creative thinking, using lots of resources and thinking out of the box,” Rotter said. “You look at something differently to someone with a liberal arts education or who has been in the Navy for a while. The work ethic you learn sets up for success in any career.”
In addition to academics, both women found opportunities to learn skills such as teamwork and leadership through their regimented educations.
“You learn a lot — you learn how people behave and grow in such a structured environment,” Fejt said. “You learn your responsibilities in a structured environment.”
Both Fejt and Rotter graduated from these structured surroundings to even higher intensity environments in their professional careers aboard a Chevron oil tanker and the USS Fitzgerald, respectively. “Being held responsible to lead different-sized groups of sailors really transformed me from a plain college graduate to a professional naval officer,” Rotter said. “You have to act differently and use different leadership tools to fit whatever situation you’re faced with.”
Both Fejt and Rotter have experienced delegating responsibility in their college careers, but it wasn’t until they left for the professional world that their training came into play. “My responsibilities include managing my 25-person team, and any maintenance and all operations of my boat’s power plant,” Fejt said. Despite sexist notions that engineering a battleship or an oil tanker is too physically demanding for women, Fejt and Rotter both proved those preconceived prejudices wrong. “For about a year or a year and a half I was a 22-year-old female in charge of 12 men,” Rotter said. “It was a great team and a group of sailors I was leading.”
While military careers are not often marketed to women, there are just as many opportunities for success and growth in the armed service for women as there are for men.
“Things are easier now than they were before,” Rotter said. “Women face unique challenges in male-dominated roles and I got very lucky.