Cadet is first Norwich woman
to train for nuclear sub duty © March 1, 2012, Norwich University Office of Communications

Academics played a big role in Shelbie Holland’s acceptance into a submarine program for officers offered through the Naval Nuclear Power School. Holland is the first female cadet from Norwich to join the program.

photo by Jordan Silverman, staffAcademics played a big role in Shelbie Holland’s acceptance into a submarine program for officers at the Naval Nuclear Power School. Holland is the first female cadet from Norwich to join the program.

Somewhere under the Pacific Ocean during the summer of 2011, Norwich student Shelbie Holland realized she was in her element while almost completely out of contact with the outside world.

“I was on the USS Nebraska for 60 days,” said Holland, a senior chemistry major from San Antonio, Texas. “It was great. It was actually pretty spectacular.”

This experience, part of her Navy ROTC training, affirmed Holland’s desire to become a submariner. She had already applied for admission to the U.S. Navy’s Naval Nuclear Power School before her cruise on the Nebraska, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. After a series of interviews in October, Holland became the first female Norwich cadet accepted into a training program that prepares officers to serve on submarines. She will be a member of the third class of women to do so.

“I think it’s great that women are able to serve on submarines,” said 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 women crew members on submarines in 2010, becoming the latest of several navies, including those of Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia and Canada, to do so. The U.S. Navy is the first to allow women to serve on nuclear-powered submarines.

Holland enrolled at Norwich on an Army ROTC scholarship, which she dropped during her sophomore year and then applied, successfully, for a Navy ROTC scholarship.

“I wanted something more applicable to what I’m studying in school,” said 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.

The first step is compiling a folder of an applicant’s academic record, SAT or ACT scores and general information that is reviewed by Navy personnel, explained Gazarek. That committee will determine if the candidate is interviewed. Gazarek helps applicants prepare for their interviews.

“They want to see real-life applications and how you think,” said Gazarek. “In Shelby’s case, I sat down with her and asked her questions about calculus and physics—and not just ‘answer this derivative or integral,’ but real-life questions—like ‘find the volume of this cup given this ruler.’”

Invited to Washington, D.C., for her interview, Holland went through “two technical interviews. Each was about an hour long, and was pretty intensive on the calculus and physics ... And then that afternoon I met with [Adm. Kirkland Donald] who is in charge of the Navy’s nuclear program. I was probably in his office for about a minute and a half and when I walked out they told me I got it.”

She was notified formally in January 2012. Holland credits Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college, with helping her prepare.

“Norwich is really good at getting my self-esteem up and getting me ready for dealing with stress,” said 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.”

Gazarek agreed.

“[Shelbie] drives herself and she does very well,” he said. “When I came to Norwich, she was a sophomore and she already expressed an interest in the submarine community. When she heard that they were putting women on submarines she said, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’”

In addition to Nuclear Power School in South Carolina, Holland will join a Nuclear Power Training Unit before she begins working on a sub. The process will take more than a year. A little more than 100 candidates are accepted into the submarine officer program each year, according to Gazarek.

While there have been media reports of resistance to allowing women on U.S. submarines, Holland said she encountered no problems during the cruise on the Nebraska.

“I don’t expect people to have too much of an adjustment issue,” she said. “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.”

Gazarek, who served on ballistic-missile and fast-attack submarines, welcomes the change, in large part because of the quality of the female candidates.

“You are going to be getting the best women to come through. Women who are very, very smart.”