Jessica Rodriguez Appointed to United States Air Force Academy Receives Two Congressional Nominations
“Jessica doesn't just complete a task to check it off the list. She takes meaningful strides towards achieving a goal for the greater good. Jessica’s attending the USAFA is a smart career choice for her, but ultimately the best choice she could have made for all of us; because without a doubt, her service will be an asset to me, to you, and this country for years to come.”
Guidance Counselor, Central High School
Photo by Abby Neese Photography
Jessica Rodriguez, who is a senior at Central High School and the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, has been appointed to the United States Air Force Academy located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Admission into America’s military service academies requires a Congressional nomination.
Jessica received nominations from both U.S. Senator Mark Warner and U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Only one nomination is required.
Carol Ford, Constituent Services Representative in Senator Mark Warner’s office, left Jessica a congratulatory message about the appointment on her cell phone. “My final class of the day at the Governor’s School was winding down when I saw the incoming call,” she said. “I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer.” Curious about the voicemail that had been left, Jessica slipped out of the room and into the hall when class was over and students were chatting. “I listened to the message,” said Jessica, “and it took me a second to register what was happening. I just stood there thinking, ‘Is this real? Is this really happening?’ I had to listen to the message again to make sure, and when it hit me, I couldn’t help crying. I immediately called my parents and loved ones!”
Senator Mark Warner’s office received notification from the Air Force Academy of the appointment before Jessica was notified. This procedure allows nominators the opportunity to offer their congratulations.
Jessica’s grandparents Colonel Richard Rodriguez, USMCR Retired, and her grandmother Norma were the ones who led to Jessica’s original interest in pursuing a military education and career. Her grandfather was a US Marine Corps aviator during the Korean Conflict and now gives tours at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.
|Jessica sits in the cockpit of an F8 fighter jet, the type of plane her Grandfather flew in the Marine Corps. This jet is displayed in the National Museum of Naval Aviation's hangar bay, which is filled with all kinds of historical aircraft.
Col Rodriguez and Norma told Jessica about the National Flight Academy, which is also located in Pensacola. The National Flight Academy is an “aviation-themed, six day military adventure” where students live on the world’s largest simulated aircraft carrier. They “experience theme-park style thrills surrounded by advanced technology, flight simulators, and virtual reality games.” The Flight Academy is designed to increase students’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and to teach them about military life.
Both grandparents strongly encouraged Jessica to enroll in the Flight Academy. She attended the camp in July before her senior year, and that decision made all the difference.
Jessica and her NFA Squadron take a few minutes to pose for photo.
“We were always busy. Always going,” Jessica commented about the National Flight Academy. "The flight simulators were so realistic. They made me feel empowered. Because it was so realistic, I was able to correct my heading, altitude, velocity, and things like that. It wasn't just a fun, easy thing. It was challenging. But that made it even more rewarding and exciting! I never got motion sickness from the experience."
"One very special day," Jessica continued, "my squadron and I were in the ready room, receiving the mission briefing from our Operations Officer about the flight ahead of us. I was finalizing my flight plans when suddenly I realized, ‘I want to do this for a career.’ I remember getting chills because I knew I could do something like this for the rest of my life,” said Jessica with a kind of awe in her voice. “It was amazing. . . I fell in love.”
In that moment, Jessica knew she wanted a military career. As soon as she got home from the Flight Academy, she began her application to the United States Air Force Academy. She did not know then, and she does not know now if she wants to be a pilot. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I'll have so many career opportunities at the Air Force Academy, and I don’t want to limit myself. I just want to keep my mind open and learn about all my options.”
Before her aviation adventure, Jessica was considering attending The College of William & Mary with an undecided major, and she had no interest in a service academy. But after the experience of the National Flight Academy and after her friends from the camp told her about their interest in applying to service academies, she realized what a great opportunity it would be to attend the USAF Academy.
Gaining admission to the USAF Academy became Jessica’s first priority. From her first moments of establishing her application portal, she found that applying to the USAF Academy was considerably more involved than applying to a civilian college or university. Basically, there are several different applications: a lengthy application to the Academy itself and three applications for a nomination to the Academy from a United States Congressman. She applied for a nomination from Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and from Representative Bob Goodlatte. Receiving a congressional nomination does not guarantee acceptance into a service academy. However, it’s extremely rare for a student to be accepted to one of the academies without that nomination.
The Academy application requires the standard college admissions’ items: college entrance exam scores, transcripts, essays, teacher recommendations, and an interview. And, as someone might expect from a military school, a physical fitness assessment was another requirement. The assessment included a basketball throw, pushups, sit ups, flexed arm hang, shuttle run, and a mile run. Melissa Wright, Central High School cross country coach, served as Jessica’s evaluator.
The Congressional nomination applications also required several interviews. Jessica had three separate 15 minute interviews conducted by Mark Warner’s nomination committee interviewers. For each interview, there was one person from the committee and that person was either in the Air Force or retired from the Air Force. “The interviews were not difficult, other than my being nervous,” Jessica explained. “I had done a lot of research and was prepared for their questions. They had my resume and asked questions based on that. They also asked: What makes you suitable for the Academy? What do you do to stay mentally tough? What career vision do you have? What is the most significant issue our country is facing today?” Each interviewer had unique questions and having three separate interviews made it more nerve-racking.
Jessica was also interviewed by Congressman Bob Goodlatte. This interview was conducted personally by him and was much shorter than Mark Warner’s interviews. He reviewed Jessica’s resume with her and asked similar questions to ones she faced in previous nomination interviews.
Completion of these applications took months -- continuously from July to January.
Jessica is a senior at both Central High School and the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School. At the Governor’s school, Jessica is enrolled in Agro-Ecology, Dual-Enrolled Environmental Science II, AP Statistics, Research, and Dual Enrolled English Literature. Like all Governor’s school students, she must complete a research project during both of her years at the school. Last year, Jessica’s project involved working with SCPS's Department of Transportation to discover ways to improve the school’s transportation system within the Central Campus. This year, Jessica is observing operations at the Timberville waste water treatment plant and helping employees run tests. Her research revolves around comparing the Timberville plant to waste water treatment plants around the world.
“Jessica has become one of the most valuable students in my classroom and throughout MRGS,” said Kara Bates, Agro-Ecology teacher at MSRG, “and she is a role model for her classmates. She is highly creative and possesses an intellectual curiosity that never ceases to amaze me. With her creative ideas, she plans ahead and sets goals for herself; this is one of the many reasons she is so successful.”
Ms. Bates continued, “Jessica is the kindest person I know. She always has a smile on her face, and she sees the best in everybody. I am so proud of her, and I know she will do many wonderful things in her life. I feel blessed that she has been one of my students over the past two years.”
At Central High School, Jessica is enrolled in Concert Band, AP US History (Virtual VA course), and Weight Training this semester. Last semester she took Physics and AP Psychology (another Virtual Virginia course) along with Concert Band. She is a member of Central’s Cross Country team and the Track team.
She is the clarinet section leader of the band, and she even takes weekly, private clarinet lessons. Jessica is Vice President of the National Honor Society.
Photo by Abby Neese Photography
In her spare time, she babysits for several families, reads, and enjoys outside recreation. She is the second oldest of four children and is the only girl.
A few days after the call from Senator Warner’s office, Jessica received an email from the USAF Academy. This congratulatory email also notified Jessica of her appointment to the Academy.
Appointees are given the option to either accept or decline their appointment. Of course, Jessica accepted the appointment.
“It’s official,” she said with a tone of relief and joy. “I am going to the United States Air Force Academy!”
Jessica's appointment is the best news. There is, however, other great news. Along with her appointment, Jessica receives a full scholarship valued at $416,000, and she will receive a salary throughout her years attending the academy. She will be commissioned as a United States Air Force officer when she graduates in 2019. In exchange for her free education, she will serve as an officer for a minimum of five years, possibly more, depending upon the career she chooses.
“After I accepted the appointment,” Jessica said, “I navigated to my Academy Portal and found a new list that I had not previously seen. Earlier, my portal contained a list of application requirements that I had to meet and complete. Now, there was a new list of things I must complete before I report to the Academy on June 25.”
She laughed and said again, “I can’t believe this is official!” Jessica credits God’s influence in getting her through the application process successfully. “I didn’t do this alone: I had the support and help of my family, and I could rely on a sovereign God who cares about me and has plans for my life.” With the USAF Academy having only a 9.9% acceptance rate, Jessica said that she gave the application her best effort and reached out for any help she could get.
Photo by Abby Neese Photography (www.abbyneese.com)
"Jessica is a born leader," wrote Shanna McComb- Beverage,
at Central High School, "and a very driven young lady. Her determination to overcome challenges combined with her unwavering passion to serve her country makes her the perfect fit for the Air Force Academy.
Every year when I meet with the students to talk about future plans and what their plans are following graduation, I always have that one student who provides me with what I like to call a "no brainer" moment. Jessica’s announcing her intent to apply to the Air Force Academy was such an obvious and perfect choice that it provided an instant comfort knowing that this next chapter of her life was going to have such an impact on the lives of so many. You see, Jessica doesn't just complete a task to check it off the list. She takes meaningful strides towards achieving a goal for the greater good. Jessica’s attending the USAFA is a smart career choice for her, but ultimately the best choice she could have made for all of us; because without a doubt, her service will be an asset to me, to you, and this country for years to come."
Congratulations, Jessica Rodriguez, USAF Academy New Appointee!
From a CHS Falcon to a USAFA Falcon!
Wishing you the best!