“Women are becoming more accepted in the military,” says Erika O’Neil, “which is one more reason I must prove myself.” As the Vice Wing Commander (second in charge), she ensures that all information is efficiently disseminated to the wing (100 cadets). “I have become a very strong leader because of the ROTC. I love it!”
She’s still learning to enjoy the 6:00 a.m. workouts, but receiving awards for outstanding leadership—Field Training Warrior Spirit Award, Reserve Officers Association Award for Leadership, and Air Force Association Citation for Outstanding Leadership—will never become tiresome.
This past summer through the Olmstead Cultural Immersion Program, Erika was able to travel (two weeks, all expenses paid) to Poland and the Czech Republic to learn about their militaries. “An amazing experience,” she says, “I will never forget!”
Majoring in Biochemistry, Erika has decided to pursue a career in Medicine as it combines science and helping people directly. She chose the Air Force because she “grew up in the Air Force and knows that the military takes care of its people.”
Erika has begun working in the Computational Biochemical Lab taught by Dr. Timothy Logan, “a great professor who’s also wickedly funny.” She makes model simulations of glycoproteins to study the stability of the sugar/protein interactions. For her research, she’s received numerous awards—the Department of Chemistry’s Johnsen Scholarship, the Scottish Rite of the Freemasonry Scholastic Excellence Award, and the American Legion’s Scholastic Excellence Award. In fact, since 2003 and each succeeding year, she has been recognized with Chemistry’s Hoffman Scholarship, as well as a scholarship from the Women in Math, Science and Engineering program, which supports and encourages young women entering these fields.
As for helping people directly, she is the founder and current president of Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), a pre-health club that introduces students to health careers while teaching them leadership skills. This past summer, she helped the Big Bend Area Health Education Center put on Senior Appreciation Days at centers throughout Florida’s Panhandle. She says, “Florida State students set up and ran information booths on HIV, heart disease, cancer, gambling problems, and fraud protection. At the cholesterol-screening booth, we tested the seniors, reviewed their results with them, and informed them how to improve their cholesterol levels.”
After graduation, Erika hopes to attend medical school, just across campus, to train to become a pediatrician in the Air Force. She says, “There is nothing better than serving your country!” That is, taking care of its people.