The real work begins Friday, Aug. 5, for Cadet Mike Schoka, of Fairfax, Virginia, the new regimental commander of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
That’s when the training cadre for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ incoming Class of 2020 begins its work, and more than 150 cadets will prepare for the arrival of the new class. A week later, on Aug. 13, more than 380 first-year cadets will begin New Cadet Week, seven intense training days that culminate with the New Cadet Week Parade Aug. 20 on the Drillfield.
As regimental commander, the highest position a cadet can hold, Schoka will do a little bit of everything to support the mission and those executing the strategically planned week. “My role is both to look ahead to the start of the semester, as well as to ensure that my staff has the resources they need to facilitate the efforts of the cadre,” he said.
Schoka, a senior majoring in mathematics in the College of Science with a minor in leadership studies from the corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development, plans to work in federal law enforcement after he graduates in December. He’s on a path and sure of his direction, something he doesn’t take for granted.
During his senior year of high school, Schoka decided he wanted to join the military, and he followed his older brother, Andrew, to the Corps of Cadets. He received an Air Force scholarship and a corps’ Emerging Leader Scholarship. He said he felt he was where he was supposed to be.
Then everything changed.
While home for winter break his first year at Virginia Tech, he began to have severe stomach pains. Doctors diagnosed him with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten damages the small intestine. The diagnosis disqualified him from military service.
“I felt like I was putting so much work into where I thought the Lord was leading me, and He changed my plans. It confused me a bit, but I truly believe that God has a plan for my life,” he said.
Schoka moved to the corps’ citizen-leader track, refocused his plans a law enforcement role, and spent the past two summers interning with for the Department of Justice.
“The most important thing about me is that I love Jesus Christ,” Schoka said. “He’s called me to be a protector, which is why I want to be in law enforcement — to serve people and protect them. That’s why I’m here still. That’s why I train hard and why I study hard — to be able to set myself to protect the people around me.”
He uses his experience to support, mentor, and encourage others who have been precluded from service. For that effort, he earned a Division of Student Affairs Aspire! Award, honoring his self-understanding and integrity, this past April.
“Mike has persevered through extremely significant life changes, requiring a total change in his eventual career aspirations and forcing him to adapt to a very challenging dietary and physical regime,” said his brother, Andrew Schoka, who graduated in May with a degree in industrial and systems engineering from the College of Engineering. “He is truly one of the most selfless and passionate people that I will ever have the honor of knowing.”
Mike Schoka said he’s most proud of seeing the development of younger students he has mentored.
“It is a great time to be a member of the Corps of Cadets, and it makes me proud to see the continued growth of all the class years,” he said. “Every semester comes with its own challenges, but my staff and I are committed to doing everything we can to leave the corps better than how we found it.”
That will mean some long but rewarding hours the next two weeks.
“The focus of New Cadet Week is to prepare the first-year cadets to be successful, both as students and cadets, in the first few weeks of classes,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, commandant of cadets.
Throughout the week, new cadets will be taught everything from military training — to march and perform drill, to wear their uniforms properly, and to familiarize them with the obstacle course — to study and life skills. “We place special emphasis on how to be a member of an inclusive and diverse university community and to treat every individual with dignity and respect,” Fullhart said.
The week will culminate with a parade marking the acceptance of the new cadets into the corps at 10 a.m. Aug. 20 on the Drillfield. During the parade, the Highty-Tighties, the regimental band, will play and Skipper, the Corps of Cadets cannon, will fire.
If you are an individual with a disability who would like to attend the parade and desire an accommodation, please contact Nicole Ward at 540-231-6413 or email firstname.lastname@example.org during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.