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...And Student Dori Hale Typify Excellence in EE
Diego Garcia stands isolated in the Indian Ocean, as far away from Auburn as you can get. Home to one of the navy's most remote bases, its functions include service as a communications station for the Persian Gulf area.
It was also home to Dori Hale, whose enlistment in the navy in 1989 resulted in orders to the remote outpost, where she worked as an electronics technician in anti-submarine warfare.
It was a real change of pace for someone who thought she would go through life as a golf course manager.
It was not to be her last, however. In August she will become the first woman to graduate from Auburn's Naval ROTC program to enter the Nuclear Navy.
"In a way it's a miracle that I ended up coming to Auburn," the electrical engineering student says. "Now it feels like home, and it's going to be hard to leave."
She spent the first two years of her college career at Mississippi State University by following her golfing talent as a student in that school's golf management curriculum. She was also a member of the women's golf team there.
"Despite a decided lack of academic interest at that age and time, I also tested into the honors program," Dori relates. "It was a mistake. I wasn't mature enough at seventeen, and there was nobody there to hold my hand. I had problems."
Then she quit.
It's something she hasn't done since.
First she surprised a lot of friends and family by enlisting in the Navy, a move she felt would address her lack of maturity.
"It worked," she adds. "I did well."
Well enough, in fact, that she asked if she could apply for a scholarship to return to school.
"There were mixed signals. My career counselor told me that it was not an option," she explains. "But I knew I wanted to be an engineer. I had reached a point as a technician that I wanted to know how the systems I was working on actually worked."
Dori adds that except for the officers with engineering training, nobody in her unit really understood the systems from a conceptual point of view, and she couldn't understand them because she didn't have the math background.
Then she got her scholarship.
"I looked at some schools, although some of them didn't look at me," she jokes. "But after a visit to Auburn I definitely knew where I wanted to go. Some of the others treated me with indifference and negativism, but what I saw here was a positive, can-do atmosphere. There was also the spirit . . . the Auburn spirit."
She was particularly impressed, even inspired she felt, with that kind of feeling in the naval ROTC unit.
Auburn was already home to the nation's premier Nuclear Enlisted Commissioning Program (NECP), but it was geared toward personnel who were already in the Nuclear Navy.
"I didn't have their technical background, and there weren't any female 'nukes' at Auburn either," Dori relates.
"The first thing I had to do at Auburn was move into the general curriculum program as a freshman to raise my GPA. It was only after that that I could move into the EE curriculum."
She found out that if she was willing to work hard, she didn't need a great technical background.
"You can get that here," she says of Auburn. "If I could only get one point across to anybody who's wondering if they have what it takes, that would be it.
"I don't pick up very easily on the technical . . . that flash of recognition just isn't there, and nothing seemed to come easy," she adds.
"But if I wasn't a natural student, I felt that I had the force of willpower that an athlete has, who performs above his or her own level.
"If I had been given these opportunities earlier, things may have been different. But it's worked out. It's been a miracle."
In addition to the challenge that engineering has brought, she points again to the university's ROTC program as being extremely positive for her own growth with respect to leadership skills, the ability to work with others, and the acceptance of growing responsibilities.
"I enjoy the Navy," she observes. "It has provided the best environment I have found to grow personally and professionally."
These are the qualities she hopes to join with her engineering education when she graduates.
Her next stop is Rhode Island for six months of surface warfare school, and then to a combattant, as she calls it a ship where she will be a junior officer with responsibilities ranging from shiphandling to weapons systems and propulsion systems to personnel management.
"A junior officer is introduced to all of it, but my goal is to be a nuclear trained surface warfare officer," Dori points out.
"I think that Auburn has provided me with the tools that I can use to be able to do that, no matter where my career takes me. Perhaps most importantly engineering has given me the ability to absorb a lot of information quickly in addition to skills in general problem solving."
She admits only to being uncomfortable with the separations from her husband that will result from navy life.
"Keith graduates in August in management information systems, and he's part of the equation too . . . we'll have to be flexible," she says, thinking ahead.
"Can I say this?" she asks. "If anybody is out there listening . . . if I can make it anybody can. I don't know how many people have been given an opportunity to start over. If you've been blessed with a second chance, make the most of it."
If Dori Hale doesn't, friends and family who were surprised that she enlisted in the navy . . . went to Auburn . . . and will graduate as an officer . . . could only be baffled.
"My experiences at Auburn have meant a lot to me," Dori adds. "I owe a lot of people, not just here, but my parents too, and mom in particular, because I feel I keep getting closer to her. I've learned a lot, and the future looks great."
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