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Pitt’s first female AFROTC commander encourages leadership

Pitt+Air+Force+ROTC+students+talk+with+their+commander%2C++Lt.+Col.+Diana+Bishop%2C+on+the+29th+floor+of+the+Cathedral.+%28Courtesy+of+Jayson+Baloy%29
Pitt Air Force ROTC students talk with their commander,  Lt. Col. Diana Bishop, on the 29th floor of the Cathedral. (Courtesy of Jayson Baloy)

Pitt Air Force ROTC students talk with their commander, Lt. Col. Diana Bishop, on the 29th floor of the Cathedral. (Courtesy of Jayson Baloy)

Pitt Air Force ROTC students talk with their commander, Lt. Col. Diana Bishop, on the 29th floor of the Cathedral. (Courtesy of Jayson Baloy)

By Zoe Pawliczek | Staff Writer

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Hidden from civilians on floor 29 of the Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh’s Air Force ROTC detachment is only accessible from two elevators. Tight hallways decorated with training schedules, cadet headshots and motivational posters lead to several small rooms.

The cadet wings at Pitt are organized the way an Air Force base would look, according to Lt. Col. Diana Bishop.

Bishop is the first-ever female commander of Detachment 730, Pittsburgh’s Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, located at Pitt. She runs the detachment’s day-to-day operations.

Bishop used to work for the Air Force in the Pentagon, but she was working in the private sector when the building was struck by terrorists on 9/11. Some of Bishop’s former coworkers and friends died in the attack, but she was inspired by the response of the survivors. One of her friends who worked in the Pentagon returned to work the next day.

“That was so motivating — it spoke to the dedication that we have as airmen and in the Air Force,” Bishop said. “So shortly thereafter I returned to active service as I really felt that calling to come back into the Air Force.”

Lt. Col. Diana Bishop’s is the first female commander of Pittsburgh’s Air Force ROTC detachment. (Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

Since then, Bishop’s career has focused on the buildup of Air Force cyber defenses. After completing her master’s at Brigham Young University, she entered the selection process to become Pittsburgh’s Air Force ROTC detachment commander.

Bishop started her three-year contract at the beginning of this semester after Pitt’s Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner and the previous commander, James R. Carroll, screened her for selection.

Bishop said she was shocked when she found out she would also be the first-ever female commander of Detachment 730.

“You’re seeing women achieve top ranks across the Air Force and across the military and so that’s inspiring to me,” Bishop said. “I feel very honored to be the first female commander.”

According to Operations Officer Capt. Michael Gorrell, Detachment 730 is about 74 percent male and 26 percent female, closely imitating the national Air Force demographics.

Detachment 730 signed its initial contract with Pitt in March of 1952. It now services 16 colleges and universities in the Greater Pittsburgh area and produces between eight and 20 quality second lieutenants each year.

In addition to her role as detachment commander, Bishop is responsible for maintaining the Air Force’s four curriculum guidelines — communication, leadership, military studies and profession of arms. She acts as one of the detachment’s professors alongside Gorrell and Flight Cmdr. Capt. Spencer Petersen.

“My job as commander of the unit is to develop our second lieutenants as leaders,” Bishop said. “That means develop them and commission them as the next lieutenants of the United States Air Force.”

But Bishop said she is only a small part of the detachment, accrediting its “full story” to the cadets.

These cadets — college students from the Pittsburgh area signed to Detachment 730 — take aerospace courses at Pitt and nearby locations. First-year and sophomore students commit an average of five to six hours each week to ROTC class, while junior and seniors devote eight to nine hours.

Cadet Wing Cmdr. Jason Nam, a senior computer science major, has been involved in ROTC since his first year at Pitt. He said being in the program has greatly increased his time management skills — while also filling his schedule.

“With a computer science major you’re typically known to stay up late to work on your projects, but you can’t do that so much anymore as a cadet,” he said.

A lounge with a television and a snack bar, a computer lab and a training room — complete with weight machines and a flight simulator — complement the classrooms and offices where the detachment works, meets and studies. Several students, including Nam, have their own offices, according to their ranks.

“We try to mimic that leadership to give them hands-on experience in some of the leadership opportunities they’re gonna have when they enter active service,” Bishop said.

Though she works closely with the Air Force and Air University to maintain the curriculum guidelines, Bishop says she places a personal emphasis on leadership.

“Leadership is hard to teach,” Bishop said. “The foundation of leadership is character building, so you really have great opportunities to discuss what it means to have character and a foundation of ethics to live by, like trust and different things like that.”

According to Gorrell, ROTC students participate in physical training a couple times a week, although a heavier emphasis is put on learning experiences. Every Thursday morning, the entire cadet wing attends a “Leadership Lab” where students participate in group activities. They engage with the leadership and management skills they learn in the aerospace courses they attend once a week.

“I think one of the beauties of the ROTC program is … first and foremost, our priority is academics,” he said. “You are a college student.”

Gorrell said the ROTC program encourages its students to be involved in Pitt activities and organizations and explore the city.

“You get to enjoy the college experience while still working towards the ultimate goal of earning a commission. And to add to that, you’re gonna earn your commission as a second lieutenant and you’ll be an officer and a leader in the Air Force,” he said.

While less than one percent of the United States population serves in the military, there are a variety of career options for cadets studying ROTC.

“We like to say, if there’s something you’re interested doing in the civilian world, we have a home for you in the Air Force,” he said. “You’re gonna gain great leadership skills, you’re gonna gain hands-on experience, whether you wanna do twenty years or four years.”

Plans for the detachment’s future include improving its monthly newsletter, creating an air and space minor to recognize the more than 750 hours each cadet devotes to their ROTC career and encouraging the cadets to work on more personal initiatives.

“I’m inspired by these cadets, and I hope that in turn I’m able to inspire them,” Bishop said.

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Pitt’s first female AFROTC commander encourages leadership