SOLEDAD — Brian Sanchez, a first-generation college student at the University of Maine — 3,000 miles from his home in Soledad — became a top performer in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) and in the Department of Mechanical Engineering through grit and a determination to succeed.
Sanchez, now a junior and midshipman third class, joined UMaine in 2019 as part of the Pathways to NROTC program. The initiative serves as a commissioning opportunity for high school students participating in Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) who demonstrate strong leadership and academic capabilities and are interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In its inaugural year, 10 students, including Sanchez, were selected to join from a pool of 77 applicants from across the nation.
Attending college and NROTC felt scary and the workload appeared overwhelming in his first year, Sanchez said. But with confidence and perseverance through adversity, he became “the best version of myself” and set a good example for his younger siblings, he said.
To ensure he made the mark, Sanchez tackled coursework with other students from the Pathways program and obtained a tutor for his math and chemistry courses, the latter of which his adviser at the time, then Marine Officer Instructor Michael Flanagan, recommended. As a result, Sanchez graduated from Pathways, now excels in NROTC and is on his way to becoming the person he aspires to be.
“College has been hard, but I’ve just put in my best effort and I feel like it’s been rewarded. I look in the mirror and I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I’m very optimistic about what’s to come in my future,” Sanchez said. “(The Pathways) program has definitely helped me focus on strengthening my weaknesses, educational and physical.”
Sanchez never set foot in Maine before attending college. He said he enrolled at UMaine because Maine feels “somewhat similar to California” to him, but different enough to provide a unique experience and allow him to “see how well I could adapt to” a new environment.
While at Soledad High School, Sanchez’s NJROTC instructor, Capt. Pedro Gomez, informed him about the pathways program offered at more than a dozen universities, including UMaine. Sanchez said the opportunity to attend college for free, improve himself and earn a career in the Navy right after graduation “seemed way too good to pass up.”
Participants in the pathways program receive full scholarships, including room and board, for their first year at UMaine. On successful completion of their first year, and meeting all other requirements, they receive scholarships for years two through five of study and NROTC, culminating in commissions as naval officers.
“I joined because I felt like it was a great opportunity to become a better version of myself and obtain credentials and skills, which would have been unnecessarily harder to obtain through traditional means,” Sanchez said.
His interest in studying engineering derives from watching his father, Misael, weld and make house and vehicle repairs.
“I always wanted to be able to create things like him, from a mental picture turned into a physical object,” Sanchez said. “Engineering seems like the perfect major to do exactly that.”
While away from class and NROTC, Sanchez participates in the student group, Improv in Sanity. He said he enjoys making people laugh, the camaraderie between group members and the ability to boost everyone’s morale.
After he graduates from UMaine, Sanchez said he wants to become a surface warfare officer, a naval leadership role he feels would allow him to “make a difference in sailors’ lives.”
“I want everyone around me to be the best version they can be and I want them to push me to become a better version of myself,” he said. “I feel like I can make a positive impact in the Navy with this mindset.”