Paige Swanson is proud to tell others that her dad spent 26 years serving in the U.S. Air Force. Thanks to his long career, she felt somewhat compelled to carry the torch and pursue a military career of her own by enrolling in the Army ROTC program at Saint Leo University.

The 22-year-old is a native of Tampa. She is currently residing in Floral City just north of the Tampa Bay area. A 2016 alumna of Robinson High School, She has a 14-year-old golden retriever and German shepherd mix, Idgie, who was named after the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. She also has a rescue cat, Bucky, who is two and was rescued during Hurricane Irma.

Selecting Saint Leo University for Higher Education

Swanson explains how she took an interesting path to choose and enroll with Saint Leo University for college.

"I was having trouble finding a college and just couldn't make up my mind," she says. "I was seriously thinking about enlisting in the military. But then a friend of mine recommended Saint Leo University. So, I took a campus tour, applied and was accepted. It was the beauty of the campus, the friendliness of the staff and the majors that drew me to go there."

She earned a bachelor's in political science degree with a minor in global studies. However, this wasn't her initial academic arrangement.

"I started out as a global studies major but then switched to the bachelor's in political science degree program and chose global studies as my minor," she says. "Most of my friends and the people I could relate to most were majoring in political science, so that's why I decided to change. I was also very interested in international law and diplomacy. Plus, Dr. Marco Rimanelli won me over."

Strong Saint Leo Faculty Support

Swanson has nothing but praise for the professors she had during her time at Saint Leo.

"I liked all of my professors a lot," she recalls. "They were all very supportive of me during my time there."

She says a group of three in the political science degree program – whom she refers to as "the big three" – were even more memorable.

"With Dr. Rimanelli, his international law class gave me a really good idea of what I'd like to do after my time in the Army. This class gave me a great idea of what the field looks like and the types of roles out there. I'd like to work at an embassy or maybe as a foreign service officer."

Hudson Reynolds, who has taught at Saint Leo since the 1970s, was another one she enjoyed.

"With Dr. Reynolds, I took two political philosophy classes with him. At first, I thought they might be kind of boring just because of the type of classes they were. But I really enjoyed them. We got to analyze Aristotle, the Lincoln speeches, John Dewey and John Stuart Mill. I also had him for senior seminar where we studied Winston Churchill. All of his classes were very thought-provoking and even helped me with my own self-reflection."

Finally, Frank Orlando also made her think in a unique way.

"I took a political inquiry class with Prof. Orlando. I was kind of dreading it at first because I knew it was going to involve math, and I was never good at math. But it turned out to be very interesting since we studied the statistics involved in campaigning. He also had us do some interesting research on what makes people change political parties."

Connecting with Fellow Political Science Enthusiasts

In addition to her political science degree program, Swanson was a member of Saint Leo's chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, a national political science honor society.

"This was a great organization to be a part of," she says. "Sometimes they would do trips to Tallahassee. But most of the time, we would get together to watch different political speeches like the State of the Union and then discuss them. Anyone is always welcome in this group, no matter what someone's political affiliation is. We had a lot of friendly debates but always respected each other, and I even made some good friends out of this experience."

She lived on campus most of the time and says when she moved off campus for a short time, she couldn't wait to come back because of how much she missed the atmosphere and convenience it offered.

In terms of Saint Leo's core values, she says that community is the one that had the biggest impact on her.

"In high school, I was honestly more of a loner student. When I got to Saint Leo and started as a freshman, I didn't want to leave my dorm room at first. But I realized pretty quickly that it was okay to socialize with others, and everyone in the community made me feel at ease."

Joining Saint Leo's Army ROTC Program

As a freshman on campus, she joined the Suncoast Battalion ROTC program and admits she hardly even knew what this acronym stood for at the time. Her father, Michael, served in the Air Force for nearly three decades. He retired as a senior master sergeant and currently works as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base.

"I originally joined the Air Force ROTC program, but I was medically disqualified. So, I decided to talk to someone about the Army ROTC program. Lo and behold, I got accepted."

She says switching programs was the best decision she could have made.

"I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason," she says. "I enjoyed the Army ROTC program a lot more. I thought it was more accepting overall. Most of my friends were in this program as well."

Upon changing to the Army ROTC program, she received a two-year scholarship. She talks about what the training was like.

"Three days a week, we'd wake up at 6 a.m. and start our physical training at 6:30. We would do push-ups, sit-ups, calisthenics and running."

She also had to do ruck marches every other week, which involves carrying something heavy on one's back and walking around with it for a certain amount of time.

"They also taught us a lot of leadership skills and tacticle operations. We used the Army ranger handbook, which was basically like our bible."

One requirement of the program is that cadets must attend a four-week training at Fort Knox in Kentucky for a cadet summer training program after their junior year of college. They must complete this program to advance to their senior year in the Army ROTC program.

A Virtual Commissioning Ceremony for the ROTC Program Cadets

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Suncoast Battalion held a virtual commissioning ceremony on Zoom this spring.

"I was a little disappointed that it had to be virtual," she confides. "But one lesson that we have to learn going into the Army is that you have to adapt during difficult situations. I thought this ceremony was executed very well. I honestly thought it was more intimate and my family and I could do what we wanted afterward to celebrate."

She says that a few Army cadets were in the ROTC room on campus for it but most attended virtually. Her family pinned the bars on her uniform. She then got to do her first salute with her dad.

"That was pretty special," she says. "I was just glad we were able to have some type of ceremony at all. They tried their best and I thought it turned out to be very nice."

As a commissioned second lieutenant in the Army, her next journey will take her to basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. This six-month training will also involve leadership courses. She says she will spend her first four years working in field artillery. After that, she hopes to transition into a military intelligence role.

A Unique Internship Opportunity During Her Political Science Degree Studies

In 2018, Swanson did an eight-week internship in Berlin, Germany.

"I absolutely loved it there. I fell in love with that country."

It was through the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit that connects students to unique international exchange opportunities. While there, she worked for Wilhelm Lappe, a well-known entrepreneur who owns two companies, The Biz Tour and Emprelab.

"He mainly works with young entrepreneurs and helps them with their business goals," she explains. "He knew German and European Spanish very well, but English was his third language. That's where my job came in. I helped him by proofreading and editing all of his documents, PowerPoint presentations and other materials that he had translated into English. I like to say that I was his Grammerly."

She thoroughly enjoyed living in Germany for two months.

"CIEE had a campus there for students to live. I actually felt like I lived there because of how culturally immersive the experience was. I felt completely integrated into the community."

A Love for Furry Friends

Swanson has always loved animals. She spent time working at a local animal daycare.

"I loved the animals so much," she says. "They had dogs, cats, birds and even a rabbit who thought he was a dog. I got to know the animals and their owners so well."

She also has been in dog shows presented by the American Kennel Club and volunteered with the Tampa Bay German Shepherd Rescue Club while in high school.

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Paige Swanson and is used with permission.