Celebrating Women in the Military

Penn State’s seventh annual Military Appreciation Week kicks off Oct. 27 during Penn State Football's matchup against Iowa State and leads up to Veterans Day observed on November 12.

As part of a longstanding commitment to serving active-duty service members, veterans, and military families, Penn State offers women with military ties a path to pursue both their personal and professional goals. A few of those women, including current students and alumnae, share their stories of life in the military and ROTC and the role Penn State has played in getting them where they are today.

Jill Morgenthaler, retired Army Colonel

As a first-year student at University Park in 1972, Jill Morgenthaler became part of a pioneering group of women who were among the first at Penn State—and in the country—to join Army ROTC. While military training and education had been mandatory at the University for male students until 1964, Penn State was one of the first ten universities in the nation to open Army ROTC to women as part of an experimental program to train women for leadership roles in the Army.

Morgenthaler (pictured far right in the 1972 University Archive photo above) and five peers—Mary Johnston, Nancy Fuller, Diane Shifflett, Carol O'Brien, and Susan Rodems—joined ROTC to train as equals alongside male counterparts and earned six scholarships out of only twenty available to women across the United States.

Woman speaking at a podium

Jill Morgenthaler, retired Army colonel

“It wasn’t until I looked back on the lessons I’ve learned in my life that I realized I was so immersed in proving myself, that I didn’t realize I was actually a trailblazer. With time and distance, I can now recognize that I was one of only three women on post in South Korea with 80,000 men, for example.” 

IMAGE: Courtesy of Jill Morgenthaler

“As a little girl, I always wanted to be a pioneer and I did it by joining Penn State ROTC, Morgenthaler said. “Even though my father was in the military I had only ever met one woman marine growing up, so when I found out about the experiment at Penn State, I walked up to Wagner Building and said, ‘I want to join the Army.’”

After graduating with a degree in economics in 1976, Morgenthaler went on active duty. Her time in the Army took her to South Korea, Germany, Bosnia, Egypt, Thailand, and Iraq as she climbed the ranks to colonel—serving as one of the first female commanders in South Korea, the first woman battalion commander in the 88th Command, and the first woman brigade commander in the 84th Division.

“I didn’t have many women role models to look to in my career, so I became one,” Morgenthaler said. “At that time, I was often the senior woman officer wherever I was, so every day I did my very best because everyone was watching. I understood that if I blew it, it wouldn’t only impact me, but every other woman.”

Morgenthaler retired after thirty years serving in active duty and as part of the Army Reserves but continued to be a trailblazer by becoming the first female director of homeland security for the state of Illinois. Today, she owns her own business and is a professional speaker on the topics of leadership, resilience, and empowerment.

“My time as a peacekeeper in Bosnia doing humanitarian work with refugees and helping the country get back on its feet proved to me that I was the leader I always hoped and thought I was,” Morgenthaler said. “Today, my passion is helping others realize their own leadership potential. I think it’s what I’m meant to do.”

Jane Li, Air Force ROTC Cadet

Jane Li, a senior studying immunology and infectious disease, initially joined Penn State’s Air Force ROTC program at the encouragement of her parents, however, it’s a decision she doesn’t regret.

As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and a second-generation American, Li always knew her father had his own hopes of enlisting in the military but exceeded the age limit by the time he became an American citizen.

Female student wearing Air Force ROTC uniform

Jane Li, Air Force ROTC Cadet

“It’s a really exciting time to be a woman entering the military because the boundaries are coming down and there are more opportunities than ever. I am so grateful for the women who came before me to help make my dream of becoming a pilot a reality.”

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

“My dad encouraged me to find my own way to give back the country that gave us everything,” Li said. “It took a little convincing since I’d never thought of joining ROTC or the military, but it turns out my dad was right—plus I fell in love with flying.”

After receiving a ROTC scholarship her freshman year at Penn State, Li said that while her first semester of physical training was hard she quickly came to love the community and camaraderie of her detachment. Li is one of only a handful of cadets who have secured a coveted pilot slot and recently completed an internship with the Air Force Global Strike Command. After graduation this spring, Li will be commissioned as an officer into the Air Force and plans to enter flight school to train as a pilot.

Li credits Penn State with helping her to realize this dream.

“I think Penn State is really special because there are so many opportunities for everyone,” Li said. “I've received excellent training through ROTC, plus the University is only one of a handful of schools to offer degrees in immunology, so I’ve still been able to pursue my academic goals.”

Capt. Christie Krotzer, Penn State World Campus student and Army logistics officer

When Hurricane Michael swept through Georgia and Florida in October, Christie Krotzer, a logistics officer in the U.S. Army was prepared to step in to assist the National Guard with extra trucks, equipment, and supplies. With more than four years of experience as a military logistician, Krotzer, who is stationed in Fort Stewart in Georgia, manages four property books—an inventory of equipment from trucks to generators to heaters to tents worth millions—for an Army battalion. She’s in charge of managing, ordering, and transferring supplies to and from installations located around the world.

“The work we do impacts soldiers on a global level and their ability to do their jobs. If we’re late transferring something, for example, a unit might not have what it needs to complete the mission. It’s a big responsibility,” Krotzer said.

To continue to develop her military career, while also preparing to one day join the civilian workforce, Krotzer enrolled in Penn State World Campus’ master’s degree program in supply chain management.

“I know there will be a point when I’ll work in the civilian world, which is why I chose Penn State,” Krotzer said. “When searching for the best online program, I emailed three different civilian employers to ask what they look for in job candidates and the schools they hire from, and Penn State was in the top three from all three employers. The choice was easy.”

For the last decade, the program has been ranked as the No. 1 supply chain program in the United States by Gartner, Inc. and World Campus ranks among the top five providers of online graduate business programs according to U.S. News and World Report.

“As an Army officer, I’m always looking to develop myself,” Krotzer said. “I’ve learned that you have to chase your own career and manage it yourself. No one is going to look out for your career better than you, so I’m continuing to develop my skill set and pursuing an advanced degree to back it up.”

Kelly Wolgast, retired Army colonel and assistant dean for online education and outreach in Penn State's College of Nursing

The same weekend Kelly Wolgast graduated from Penn State’s Army ROTC in 1985—having earned a four-year nursing degree—she was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army. After leaving Happy Valley, Wolgast’s twenty-six-year career as an Army nurse took her across the United States and overseas to Germany and Afghanistan for a variety of clinical and leadership positions.

More than thirty-three years later, she’s returned to University Park as assistant dean for online education and outreach and a faculty member in the College of Nursing—bringing with her a desire to pay forward the positive experiences she had as a Penn State student to help shape the academic experiences and careers of future nursing professionals.

“Much of what I learned in Army ROTC at Penn State set me up for success in my entire military career. I met Penn Staters all over the world, and if I heard a “We Are” or saw a Penn State flag, I knew they were a kindred spirit,” Wolgast said. “The University is respected worldwide, no matter where I found myself. This place opened doors for me and I’m so happy that my path has brought me back.”

In the Army, Wolgast earned the Bronze Star Medal for combat experience as deputy commander and chief nurse in Afghanistan, served as a hospital deputy commander for relief operations following Hurricane Katrina, and was senior nurse executive of the U.S. Army Medical Command. Along the way, she went back to school and earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in nursing practice in executive nurse leadership.

Today, back at her alma mater, she’s busy growing the College of Nursing’s online nursing programs and portfolio through Penn State World Campus and the Commonwealth Campuses. She continues to draw on her leadership experiences during her time in the military to serve as a role model for her students.

“I’m inspired to pay it forward. I retired once already, but I want to help build the next generation of nursing professionals,” Wolgast said. “I feel like I still have the ability to continue to have an impact and give back. The energy at Penn State is palpable and it fuels me every day.”

About Military Appreciation at Penn State

Penn State’s seventh annual Military Appreciation Week begins with a Penn State football game on October 27 leading up to Veterans Day observed on November 12. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. Armed Forces with special events and activities. As part of the University’s year-round commitment, the annual celebration provides the Penn State community the opportunity to come together to honor service members, veterans, and military families to recognize their service and sacrifice.

To learn more, visit MilitaryAppreciation.psu.edu. For a list of planned events, visit Penn State News.