Editor's note: Penn State has a longstanding and proud tradition of serving the men and women of our military through education benefits, resources, support and more. As part of Penn State’s ongoing military appreciation we offer the following story.*
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During his orientation session at Penn State Naval ROTC four years ago, Austin Bieniawski was asked by an instructor what he wanted to do in the Navy. His reply was a little nervous and a bit rushed.
“You want to do nuclear navy aviation?” the instructor responded.
It took Bieniawski, who graduated from Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College in May, a few years to definitively answer that question, but he will head to Naval Air Station Pensacola this fall to begin training as a Navy pilot.
A graduate of the College of Engineering with honors in mechanical engineering, Bieniawski was raised by two Penn State engineers. His father, Andrew, is a nuclear engineer and his mother, Ann, is an architectural engineer. He would help friends work on cars and was a strong math and science student, so studying engineering in college made sense. His mother was a member of the honors program at Penn State and Bieniawski thought he wanted to take on that challenge, too.
“I liked that I could schedule my classes first (with priority scheduling), and I liked that Schreyer was doing a good job at pitching the ‘Make a big university small’ idea,” he said.
Growing up in Stafford, Virginia, 45 minutes from Washington, D.C., and 15 minutes from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Bieniawski had several friends and acquaintances who had military or government jobs. The Naval ROTC program appealed to him.
“I definitely wanted to do something after college that wasn’t just sitting at a desk,” he said. “I also wasn’t quite sure what kind of opportunities would present themselves in the professional world of engineering.”
Bieniawski was interested in both aviation and submarines when he entered ROTC and was able to learn more about each between academic terms. He spent part of the summer after his sophomore year attached to a Navy command on a submarine in Seattle, and part of the following summer attached to an F/A-18 squadron in Lemoore, California.
“It was really, really helpful for me to get both of those experiences in depth,” he said. “I thought the science behind the submarines was cool, hence the nuclear engineering research, but I was much more interested in being a pilot than I was in being a submarine officer, even though the science behind the submarines and the nuclear reactors were interesting. I was much more attracted to the aviation lifestyle.”
When it came time for Bieniawski to rank his top preferences among the ROTC’s six unrestricted line officer communities, he put pilot at the top of the list.
After living in Russia for three years and taking three Russian language courses at Penn State, as well as four years of French language courses in high school, Bieniawski hopes to continue to do more language work.
His immediate future will include service, though.
“The reason that I have found to serve is simply to be part of something bigger than myself,” he said, “and to give back to a country that has given so much to my family and other families across the country.”
The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 1,900 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.
* This year, Military Appreciation Week begins with a Penn State football game on Oct. 27 leading up to Veterans Day on Nov. 11. This year's theme will recognize 100 years of women officially serving in the U.S. armed forces with special events and activities, including a community football tailgate, library showcase, speaker events and more. A list of events will be available at MilitaryAppreciation.psu.edu.