The U.S. Army ROTC and the Air Force ROTC provide leadership opportunities for cadets.


Capt. Oliver Chang is the operations flight commander for U.S. Air Force ROTC.

“I was born in Salt Lake City. My parents are immigrants from a very poor region of Taiwan, so I’m first generation. I’m very proud of where my parents come from. My dad came from a super dirt-poor area of Taiwan. Even though he was still in middle school, he had to work to support his three siblings. They made it work on less than $100 a month.

“Now, he’s a chemical engineer. My parents did well for themselves by the virtue of hard work. They came over with student visas and eventually got their green cards and became citizens. I’m very proud of that.

“There’s sort of this weird duality in the Asian-American world where it’s like we’ll push you to do music, but, really, we want you to become a doctor. I have three degrees from the University of Michigan. I have two engineering degrees and a degree in music education.

“My parents never had the opportunity to play an instrument, so they really wanted me to. I remember living in Pittsburgh at the time, and we were on the highway. My parents told me we were heading to a music store. I was 4 or 5 years old and they told me, ‘you’re either going to play piano or the violin.’ I didn’t know what either of those were, but I liked the sound of the word, ‘violin,’ more than the word, ‘piano.’

“I hated the violin for the first eight to 10 years. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I was better than most of the people. It was fun being good at something. In early high school, I was like, ‘man I’ve already done this for so long I might as well just stick with it.’ I’m glad I did. I got to play for one of the high school national orchestras and toured Europe for a little while.

“I have a background in education, so one of the reasons why I chose ROTC is because I wanted to have the opportunity to go back and teach in the classroom and mentor kids. My responsibility here, along with the commander, is to commission new lieutenants into the U.S. Air Force. That’s what I love about this job. When you actually get to interact with cadets and see them grow, it’s great.

“I didn’t choose to come to South Dakota State. I didn’t even know where South Dakota State was. I just volunteered for ROTC. I consider myself a pretty traveled person. I’ve lived in multiple countries, I’ve been to every state, and been to almost 40 countries, and yet, I didn’t know anything about the Dakotas.

“I’m glad I came. People say, ‘Hi’ here, not because they feel they have to say, ‘Hi,’ they say, ‘Hi,’ because they actually want to know how you’re doing. I’ve decided I’m going to start playing for the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. It’s funny, the director is from Michigan. We immediately hit it off.

“One thing I’m very proud of is something that a friend once told me that sort of summed up my life. She said, ‘I like the fact that you don’t ever go halfway on anything.’”

By Patrick Curry, senior journalism major from Brookings Photo by Patrick Curry


Mitchell WiIlliams is a senior history major from Sioux Falls


“I started in engineering but then I found out pretty fast I’m not as good at math as I thought I was. I switched to history because it’s something I like and something I’ve always been interested in.

“After college, I will be commissioned into the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant, and I’ll be an aircraft maintenance officer. I’ll be on active duty then.

“It started when I was a junior in high school. I’ve always had an interest in being in the military, in airplanes and all that. At a career fair, I didn’t really know what to do, so I went over and talked to the Air Force guy. He pointed me toward ROTC, and here I am.

“Here on campus for Air Force ROTC, I attend a three-credit class and physical training twice a week and leadership laboratory for two hours every Thursday. Inside ROTC itself, I’m involved in the Arnold Air Society. It’s a national honorary society. My junior year I was the squadron commander here at SDSU.

“Last year, we had about 15 people in our squadron, and I managed that. Everyone had a position, and I figured out what we wanted to do and delegated tasks so we could get things done. And it’s kind of the same this year. This semester, I’m the mission support group commander. I figure out what needs to get done and distribute the tasks.

“I’d really like to serve 20 years in the Air Force. We’ll see how the first four go. I definitely plan to do the 20 years. Maybe I’ll end up back in South Dakota afterward.

“The biggest struggle for me is that I’m pretty quiet and reserved. I have to put myself out there and become more comfortable being in charge and taking charge in situations.

“Looking back to day one of freshman year to now, I would say I’ve gained a lot more confidence. I’m more comfortable being out front.”

By Nicole Hamilton, agricultural communication senior from Hitchcock


Sarah Smith is a captain in the U.S. Air Force who graduated from SDSU in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in geography and geographic information sciences. Her hometown is Fort Pierre.

“The military always intrigued me, and I was interested in learning more about what the U.S. Air Force had to offer, so I signed up to take the freshman Air Force ROTC class. Throughout my first year, I enjoyed the camaraderie that ROTC offered, and the other cadets were exceptional people.

“During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, the Air Force sent me to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona for three weeks to job shadow various Air Force officers. After completing the three-week experience, I knew that I wanted to be part of the team.

“My proudest moment would be graduating from SDSU and then, in the same day, commissioning as a second lieutenant into the United States Air Force.

“Be sure to enjoy your undergraduate years; they go fast. Make sure to stay on track for your degree, but squeeze in a few different courses if you can. This allows you to meet new people from a variety of backgrounds, creating a more diverse learning environment and giving you the opportunity to expand your horizons.

“College is a great sounding board for trying new things and surrounding yourself with different opportunities that you may not have again. Also, enjoy your college years, but set yourself up for success in the future. Life only gets better.”

By Steph Hennen, agricultural communication senior from Morris, Minnesota


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