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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Junior juggles between roles as student, athlete, cadet


Shelby Harper manages a full schedule of being a student, athlete and member of the Air Force ROTC program. | Courtesy of Capt. Merrideth Tyler Akers

Being a full-time student can be a college student’s time-management nightmare: With so much to do and so many places to be, it’s easy to feel like there’s not enough hours in the day.

Junior middle blocker Shelby Harper can surely relate, balancing between being a full-time student, collegiate athlete and being a member of UH’s Air Force ROTC program.

“I really wanted to serve my country and I thought ROTC was the best way to do it,” Harper said. “I can’t see myself in a 9 to 5 job behind a desk and I thought, ‘What better job is there than to serve my country?’”

‘Impressed’ advisers

On top of studying and competing, Harper, as a member of the ROTC program, must attend three weekly physical training sessions and a two-hour leadership lab at 4 p.m. every Wednesday.

ROTC cadets also have to complete community service per the program’s requirements. The number of hours gradually increases each year.

Harper’s advisers lauded her for never letting the workload affect her despite three life commitments pulling her in different directions.

“There are some things that we simply can’t make allowances for, and that’s where Harper has really impressed us,” said Capt. Merrideth Tyler Akers, assistant professor of Air Force sciences. “She’s always there, always on time or early when she needs to be. She doesn’t cut corners, whine or ask for any special treatment, and that’s what we’re looking for in a cadet.”

The work comes with its benefits as the ROTC offers scholarships that cover up to $18,000 of tuition under the stipulation that anyone who completes the program enters the Air Force’s four-year commission.

With the commission comes the rank of second lieutenant, and cadets will have little downtime upon finishing college and entering the Air Force. Harper’s work ethic is preparing her for the quick turnaround.

“These cadets will have graduation ceremony and their commission ceremony within two or three days of each other,” Akers said.

Harper is adapting well to the situation, using lessons learned in ROTC to improve her volleyball game and vice versa.

The team’s stalwart

In an interview with Campus Connect, a program from the American Athletic Conference, head coach Kaddie Platt praised Harper’s ability to influence the team’s younger members.

“She has really invested time into our freshmen and they really look up to her because she is so organized and knows what she wants,” Platt said. “It’s a great thing for our young players to be able to see.”

Despite being unable to play this season with a nagging shoulder injury, Harper has been a pivotal member of the volleyball team in her career. Harper started 15 games and appeared in all 32 in her first season with the Cougars after transferring from the University of Arkansas.

During this time, Harper was a force for the Cougars in the front line, totaling 159 kills and 73 blocks. She is currently rehabbing her shoulder and looks to come back stronger next season.

“If you’re going through a hard time or if you’re stressed you’ve just got to keep rolling through it,” Harper said. “It’s important to pay attention to detail and you’ve got to learn fast and go with it.”

Harper, whose parents served in the Navy, knows that what she learns while in school and the ROTC program will help her when the stakes are much greater later in life.

Her attention to detail and ability to balance the many aspects of her life has led to praises from her superiors.

“She’s a very strong cadet in leadership, poise, maturity, physical strength,” Akers said. “We love cadets who have a skillset like hers because we know she’s physically fit and she’s mature, intelligent, has good people skills, high emotional intelligence, leading to such a well-rounded cadet. We’re excited to have her in our program.”

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