Freshman Earns Air Force ROTC Scholarship

Freshman Earns Air Force ROTC Scholarship


Freshman Stephen Best’s tuition and many expenses will be covered for the remainder of his SUNY Cortland education after receiving a coveted Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Commander’s In-College Scholarship.

Best, a political science major from Southold, N.Y., last fall joined Cornell University’s Air Force ROTC, which accepts qualified SUNY Cortland students. The cadet was presented with the scholarship certificate during a March 20 ceremony in the SUNY Cortland President’s Office in the Miller Building.

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Prus congratulated Best on winning the scholarship based on his freshman year performance at the College.

Representing the Air Force in awarding Best with the full-tuition scholarship was  the USAF Detachment Commander Lt. Col. William E. Sitzabee and USAF Operations Officer/Recruiting Flight Commander Lt. Col. Ryan P. O’Dowd.

The Commander’s In-College Scholarship recognizes college academic performance as well as physical fitness and demonstrated leadership capabilities. Best has a 3.7 overall grade point average. College students need a 2.5 GPA to be considered for the honor.

Stephen Best - group

Gathered in the President's Office for the scholarship presentation, from the left, were Erik J. Bitterbaum, Lt. Col. William E. Sitzabee, Stephen Best, Lt. Col. Ryan P. O’Dowd and Mark Prus.

“We like to say it’s for the ‘whole-person-leadership aptitude,’” Lt. Col. Sitzabee said.

Best’s commanding officers were unaware of any previous SUNY Cortland student receiving this scholarship.

This year Best is the only cadet in the command’s eight-college territory to receive the scholarship.

Approximately a quarter of Air Force cadets who earn four-year scholarships receive the level of benefits that Best will enjoy. The award also covers, from this semester through graduation, a book allowance and a monthly stipend starting at $250 and increasing in size each year.

Currently, Best commutes to the Cornell campus with his fellow cadets for ROTC courses and physical training as a cadet, but is not enlisted in the military.

“Any student can register for the classes without joining the ROTC,” Lt. Col. O’Dowd explained. “However, joining the ROTC means that they are committed to pursuing a commission.”

As a sophomore or upon successful graduation, Best becomes a candidate for an officer’s commission as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force.

“I did Navy Junior ROTC for four years,” Best said, explaining his ongoing interest in the military.

Before enrolling at SUNY Cortland, Best was also interested in science and history. The latter pursuit led him to his current focus on political science.

“One day I hope to go to law school,” Best said.

Best will pursue his leadership goals for 10 weeks this summer in Morocco in Project GO (Global Officers), a scholarship program open to college students, mainly those participating in ROTC programs with the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines. This collaborative initiative promotes critical language education, study abroad and intercultural dialogue opportunities for ROTC students. Project GO programs focus exclusively on the languages and countries of the Middle East, Asia, Central Asia and Africa.