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Bringing ROTC History to Life

The U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at the University of Dayton is among the oldest operating programs in the country — and with so much history, a local student decided to bring it to life.

ROTC cadet Sam Penewit, a junior political science and history major from Vandalia, Ohio, dedicated his summer to creating a timeline that detailed the program’s history from 1917 to 2017.

“There just wasn’t an accessible version of history for our age,” Penewit said. “There only was a book that was made before cell phones, Twitter and Instagram, and kids today are just going to sweep that under the rug. I wanted to do a project that brought our history to life and could be displayed in the ROTC range so that other people could see it.”

Penewit spent his summer afternoons in the University archives under the guidance of history professor Janet Bednarek. He pulled all files related to ROTC and cataloged what information was in each. He said the most tedious part was scanning hard copy pictures from the archives and transferring them to his timeline display.

His research was supported by the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates the opportunity to partake in summer research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Penewit received funding for the project through his fellowship and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Fund for Excellence.

He also applied for the Brother Joseph W. Stander Symposium grant, which provided him with further funding and the opportunity to present his project at the 2019 Stander Symposium, a University event that celebrates academic excellence.

Penewit worked on his project for a five-month period, teaching himself Adobe Illustrator to create a six-panel timeline display that highlights 100 years of the Army ROTC program at the University. It is displayed in the Department of Military science in the basement of O’Reilly Hall.

“I saw this as a project that could help me as a history major, political science major and in the military to help me understand my unit’s past,” he said. “The most rewarding part is having that history up on the wall.”

The Dean’s Summer Fellowship program is an invaluable aid for students wishing to do undergraduate research, said Verb Washington, College assistant dean for student academic affairs. As the former chair of the Department of Military Science, Washington worked with Penewit throughout his project, primarily in the copy editing stages.

“Sam's timeline display project is museum-ready,” Washington said. “He put in the effort to learn design as well as the research in the archives, private collections and departmental files to produce a well-made, eye-catching, substantive visual history of both UD and its ROTC program. The narrative is compelling.”

An evolving program that commissioned its first class in 1923, the University’s ROTC program was once the second largest in the United States, and has commissioned more than 2,500 officers to date. The program was mandatory for all freshmen and sophomore males until 1969. Penewit joined in August 2016.

“It’s worth every hardship that it gives,” Penewit said. “The program is structured where you gradually get more out of it and gradually learn more.”

As a cadet and commander of the ROTC company, he leads cadets through daily ROTC functions at the University. Penewit’s involvement in the ROTC program and working on his timeline project taught him how to time-manage. He also is a new student orientation leader, a campus recreation facilities operations assistant, a student representative for the academic affairs committee, and a member of Red Scare — a student organization that facilitates cheer at varsity athletic events.

“I like an action-packed schedule,” he said. “Doing this summer research taught me a lot of valuable lessons in life. It was all just a lot of fun.”

After graduating from the University in May 2020, Penewit will commission and attend three months of basic officer courses as a lieutenant. Afterward, he hopes to be stationed in Germany or Hawaii as an active duty armor officer.

This summer, Penewit will spend 20 days at Fort Bliss in Texas shadowing a lieutenant. He also will train for 38 days at Kentucky’s Fort Knox.

Penewit is proud of his research project and thankful for what the opportunity has provided him academically and within the military.

“The project and fellowship challenged me to look outside the box of a normal college class,” Penewit said. “To use my own brain and apply lessons I have learned at UD to complete a project that will hopefully help future students and cadets understand their past.”

- Ashley Junkunc ‘21

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