As a freshman midshipman, Lizetthe Moreno contemplated dropping out of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program (NROTC). She would not have imagined that two years later, as a junior, her participation would lead her to win a prestigious scholarship award.

Through NROTC, Moreno recently received a Scholastic Leadership Scholarship from the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). Sitting at the Oct. 2 scholarship award ceremony, Moreno could not help but feel vindicated for her decision to pursue NROTC despite its challenges.

“I was thinking how far I’ve come, not only physically, but mentally with this career,” Moreno said. 

Lizetthe Moreno in her Navy uniform

Moreno, a Spanish for International Service major, is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and is a first-generation college student. Growing up, this meant limited help from her parents with everything from math homework to the college application process. It also meant that attending college, and paying for it on her own, were the expectation.

“My parents were always like, ‘You must do the best to excel in everything. Nothing will be given to you, it has to be earned,’” Moreno said. “It did teach me to be independent and find answers and help on my own, which I think really set me up for success in college because I wasn't necessarily too attached or dependent on them.”

This independence and determination to pay her way through school show that Moreno is not one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, this is largely what interested her most about NROTC in the first place. 

“I was really drawn to the excellence that the Marine Corps expects,” Moreno said. “I just was really intrigued by the challenge and the grit.” 

Moreno was one of 14 ROTC cadets and midshipmen in the Capital Region to receive the NDIA scholarship, which was presented at the ceremony by Four-Star Gen. Joseph M. Martin, the vice chief of staff of the Army. Moreno is not only the first student to receive this award, but she is also the first to pursue a career as a Marine officer through NROTC.

For Moreno, the scholarship award confirmed that becoming an officer in the Marines is the right career for her. After initially thinking she did not have the qualifications to be a military officer, she eventually fell in love with NROTC and decided to continue.

“When I got the award, it was reaffirming that I do have the personality and the ability to execute this job well,” Moreno said. 

Apart from this affirmation, the award ceremony offered Moreno another reason to celebrate. Because of COVID-19, it was presented at a live-streamed ceremony which allowed Moreno’s family to tune in.

“My family in Colombia got to see the live stream. That was very special because my grandfather is the person that’s most supportive of me going into the military,” Moreno said. “Because of his health, I don’t think he’ll be able to come see me commissioned or ever really see me in person in uniform, so it was cool to have him be a part of it so far away.”

Part of what Moreno says has helped her be successful in NROTC thus far is the philosophical and theological foundation ’s curriculum offers. It has proved useful in her military career in ways she was not expecting.

“I’m so grateful that CUA teaches you how to be a good thinker and understand how other people think,” Moreno said. “It will serve me well as I serve in the military because leadership takes a lot of philosophy, but it also takes a strong set of morals, ethics, and understanding of the world to be able to pull others to follow you into something unknown.”

Before the pandemic, Moreno would travel to George Washington University, the host of the D.C. area’s NROTC program, every morning for training and classes. This meant waking up before sunrise and resolving scheduling conflicts with her courses. Now, her NROTC classes are online and physical training consists of working out individually. For Moreno, these challenges are worth the unique experiences NROTC has provided her and all she has learned through the program.

“Overall, I do think it’s been a rewarding experience,” Moreno said. “I do think it’s been very difficult, being a student and also traveling to downtown D.C. every morning. It’s expensive and exhausting, but I don’t regret it and I’m so grateful that I decided to stick with it.”

Liliana Lomas, junior, Media and Communication Studies major