Since early childhood, Andrew Maloney dreamed about being in the Navy, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were both naval captains. But a little pop culture added clarity to the dream.

“The movie ‘Top Gun’ got me hooked,” said Maloney, the 2020 recipient of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Staff Association Scholarship. “The girls, the shades, the barrel rolls in the sky — I thought flying was the coolest thing in the world. All I wanted to do was fly.”

He pursued his goal of becoming a Navy pilot, and in 2016, Penn State University accepted him into its aerospace engineering program and he received a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship.

Unfortunately that year, he discovered his eyesight had a slight color deficiency, which meant he could not qualify as a pilot. A week before his spring finals began, his naval advisor informed him that his time as a midshipman was at an end. Without the scholarship, Maloney, who is from Northern Virginia, decided not to remain in Pennsylvania.

But as he learned, sometimes the most meaningful lessons come from the least expected sources.

“The months that followed were some of the hardest of my life, as I searched for what to do and where to go,” he wrote in his scholarship application essay. “But a text from my grandmother turned me around and set me on the path I am on now. I am not a very religious person, but my Gram is, and she told me, ‘When God closes one door, he opens another.’ That text completely changed my frame of mind and made me more determined than ever to become a naval officer. From that point on, my goal in life shifted to becoming an intelligence officer in the Navy.”

His parents encouraged him to consider Virginia Tech, and once at the university, he found that the national security and foreign affairs major in the Department of Political Science was exactly the new direction he needed to pursue.

Maloney’s story resonated with the members of the college’s Staff Association scholarship committee. His honesty and struggle to redefine himself made him stand out among dozens of commendable applicants for the award.

The Staff Association undertakes fundraising activities to support the scholarship, which serves as a way for staff members to show their appreciation for the students and departments they serve. Each year the award goes to one exemplary liberal arts or human sciences undergraduate or graduate student based on academic record, community service or extracurricular activities, and personal essay. 

“I had the honor and pleasure to serve on the selection committee this year,” said LaTawnya Burleson, an advancement senior associate who serves as president of the Staff Association, “and while we had many wonderful, deserving students apply to our scholarship, Andrew was top on all of our lists.”

Maloney’s move from majoring in aerospace to national security and foreign affairs was not a difficult transition for the transfer student, although it came with its own unique challenges. 

“I think the hardest part was shifting from taking engineering and math classes, where I studied formulas, numbers, and equations,” he said, “to a liberal arts major, where much of my work centers on reading and writing.”

He chose his new major because it was an area he had always found fascinating. Maloney’s father, when not on active duty, is a civilian in naval intelligence. 

Maloney also participates in Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology, which educates students for careers in the national security field. 

“The center has given me different perspectives,” Maloney said. “I’ve learned things that I wouldn’t learn in a course. My wealth of knowledge has increased, as have my ideas about the intelligence field.”

Maloney notes that he found Eric Jardine’s talk about the dark web especially fascinating. Jardine, an assistant professor of political science, had hosted a conference titled “Understanding the Dark Web and Its Implications for Policy.”

In addition, Maloney completed an internship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association in Alexandria, Virginia, to augment his classes. 

To maintain a balance between his studies and his overall college experience, he joined a fraternity, and is now its vice president and co-philanthropy chair. He has led its fundraising efforts for the Virginia Tech Relay for Life and a military heroes campaign. He said the friendships that have resulted makes this one of the most meaningful experiences he has had at Virginia Tech.

Although Maloney’s name consistently appears on the dean’s list, he considers his two consecutive semesters achieving a 4.0 grade point average his biggest achievement at Virginia Tech. What made this an especially proud accomplishment, he said, was in both instances he found himself in classes that pushed him out of his comfort level and challenged the way he thought about the subject. He said his military leadership and ethics course, taught by Capt. Douglas Bradley, commanding officer of the Virginia Tech Naval ROTC, pushed him to consider situational ethics in the military. He wondered whether he could maintain his grade point average.

“It all came down to my final project,” he said, “and I ended up doing really well. I got straight A’s again, and this taught me an important lesson. You might have tasks that make you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be really hard. I’m not going to do well,’ and then you surprise yourself.”

As Maloney contemplates his final semester at Virginia Tech this fall, he is in the process of applying to Officer Candidate School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. He remains determined to become an officer in the Navy.

— Written by Leslie King