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National Leadership Challenge helps high school students learn about Corps of Cadets

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National Leadership Challenge participants get a chance to rappel at the Army 5th Ranger Training Battalion at nearby Camp Frank D. Merrill.

Marissa Gemmel knew she wanted to be part of a college ROTC program and study cybersecurity. A National Leadership Challenge (NLC) weekend the spring of her junior year in high school helped the Abington, Massachusetts, native realize the University of North Georgia (UNG) would be an ideal place for those pursuits.

"For me, it was very eye-opening. I was challenged and pushed in ways that I hadn't been pushed before," Gemmel said. "It was very rewarding because I got to see the limits I could be pushed to."

Now a freshman in UNG's Corps of Cadets, Gemmel is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity.

"I came down here and fell in love with the school," Gemmel said.

NLC weekends, held once each spring and fall, offer prospective cadets what Mike Ivy, '95, director of Cadet Admissions, considers a macro view of life in the Corps of Cadets from Friday night through Sunday morning. One of only six federally designated senior military colleges in the nation, the university carries the distinction of The Military College of Georgia and its nationally recognized Army ROTC program attracts students from across the state, region and nation.

The next NLC weekend is set for Nov. 1-3. Registration is available at the National Leadership Challenge website. The spring 2020 NLC weekend is scheduled for April 3-5.

High school students split into 10-person squads to experience leadership reaction courses at UNG's Pine Valley facility, rappel at the Army 5th Ranger Training Battalion at nearby Camp Frank D. Merrill, stay at the Wahsega 4-H Camp and eat meals in a military chow hall. Each group has a cadet mentor. An academic panel teaches them about UNG.

Cadets plan the NLC weekends — and all Corps events — which Ivy considers a great thing for prospective cadets to witness.

"It's an opportunity to see what you could look like two to three years down the road as far as responsibility," Ivy said.

Ivy said 30 percent of the fall 2019 freshman class of the Corps attended an NLC weekend while in high school.

Erin Hagebusch, a May 2019 UNG graduate who was a member of the Corps, commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps. When Hagebusch attended NLC as a high school student, she had already been accepted to UNG as a civilian student. The Sunday night she got back home from NLC, she switched her application to Cadet Admissions.

"I could see myself in my cadet leadership's shoes," Hagebusch said. "I could see myself doing what they were doing on an everyday basis."

The NLC weekend is designed for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors and costs $115.

Gemmel encourages any high school student with interest to sign up for an NLC weekend.

"Go for it and take a shot. You might love it. It might not be for you," Gemmel said. "But at the end of it, you'll know if this is something for you."

Another opportunity for high school students to learn about the Corps is the Cadet Overnight Visit Experience, which allows high school students to spend a day with a cadet to learn the rhythms of life in the Corps. The smaller event costs $30 and is available Tuesdays and Thursdays during the fall and spring semesters.

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