The past four years have been anything but ordinary for Victoria Ollo, and the 22-year-old expects nothing less from her future.
She has jumped from planes at the U.S. Army Airborne School, traveled across the country participating in cycling competitions and presented research at the American Nuclear Society student conference in Texas.
After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 2011, Ollo was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
She graduated this spring in the top 5 percent of her class with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Story continues below gallery
During her time at West Point, she took a battery of academic, military and physical education classes.
“Regardless of our academic major, we had to take all types of classes,” she said. “I had to take several semesters of English and history classes as well as classes in leadership and psychology.”
Each year, cadets took a military science class in which they had to create operational orders based on a specified mission and brief others on it, she said.
Physical education classes were vital in developing strength and endurance and included learning such skills as grappling and survival swimming, she added.
“The combination of classes really taught me that having a well-rounded educational experience was useful because in my military career I will not be focused specifically on one thing,” she said. “The physical classes integrated practical skills that I likely would not have got elsewhere.”
By her senior year at West Point, Ollo had earned the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence, which designates the top 5 percent of cadets in each class, and she was on the dean’s list for several semesters.
For her outstanding academic performance, she received the prestigious Lt. Gen. Leslie R. Groves Award, named for the man who carried out basic atomic bomb research for the Manhattan Project in the 1940s.
The award is presented by West Point’s physics and nuclear engineering department to the top graduating nuclear engineering major.
“I originally did not picture myself studying a science or engineering field, but West Point’s very math- and science-intensive academic coursework changed my mind early on,” she said. “Had I not been forced to take the amount of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes that I did, I probably would never have discovered my love of nuclear science, engineering and technology.”
She also credits some of her success and drive to her teachers at Brownstown Central, in particular social studies teacher Randy Greene.
“He stands out as someone who was really excited and pushed me when I brought up my interest in applying to West Point,” she said. “Also, Paula Workman and Melanie Preston stand out.”
Preston teaches language arts, and Workman teaches social studies.
Ollo said she is thankful for the challenges she has faced in military school because they made her stronger.
“West Point allowed me the opportunity to better myself militarily, academically and physically every day,” she said. “I used to be afraid of branching out and trying new things; but once I began to feel more confident in myself and my abilities, I really learned how to adapt and thrive in new environments.”
She said her fondest memories of the past four years center on annual events and traditions at the academy, including West Point’s Christmas dinner and the famed Army-Navy football game.
“However, other memories, such as intense room-cleaning sessions with my roommate before inspections, also top the list,” she said.
Now that she has completed her undergraduate studies and training, she will attend U.S. military intelligence basic training at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. There, she will spend the rest of this year in intensive instruction, learning and developing skills utilized in military intelligence.
“I became interested in military intelligence quickly in my West Point experience,” she said. “The branch seemed as though it had an interesting mission, and the skills I would learn would be useful in life. Additionally, all the MI officers at West Point had nothing but great things to say about the branch, which helped me make my final decision.”
Early next year, Ollo will be assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina with her fiance, 2nd Lt. Patrick Bastianelli of Fort Dix, New Jersey, whom she met at West Point. The couple plan to marry next summer on the West Point campus.
“After I complete my training, I hope to move on to my next assignment and be a part of the greater mission of the Army, whatever that may be,” she said.
Her motivation to achieve comes from an internal drive to always improve herself, she added.
“I am always looking to figure out how to accomplish things more efficiently,” she said.
She also receives encouragement from friends and family.
Ollo is the daughter of Jeff and Kim Ollo of Seymour. She has four younger siblings, Jacqueline, William and twins Phillip and James.
Her path isn’t typical of a young woman from a small town, she said, but that’s what makes it worth sharing.
“I originally had no intention of any type of military lifestyle,” she said.
After receiving a brochure in the mail from West Point, she decided to do some preliminary research as she was looking at all of her post-high school options.
“I cannot remember the exact moment, but somewhere between all the books and online research I did about West Point, I made the decision,” she said.
That decision is one she has regretted, she added.
“There were definitely times I thought I should feel like I wanted to quit,” she said. “But I realized that even the most challenging of times just aided to better me as a well-rounded person.”
Being away from Jackson County for four years hasn’t been easy, and she has missed home a lot, she said.
“I absolutely miss all of my friends from high school, and I also miss performing with the drill team at BCHS football and basketball games,” she said. “I always felt those types of events really brought the community together in a special way.”
Although the military and engineering fields are not traditional environments for young women, Ollo said, she is thankful she was never discouraged along the way.
She hopes her story encourages other high school students in Jackson County to step outside their comfort zone and to believe they are capable of whatever it is they want to do — as long as they work hard and don’t quit.
“Never feel as though anything is impossible,” she said. “Just because what you want to do is not the path most traveled does not mean you are prohibited from doing your own thing and truly exploring your interests.”
Who: Victoria Ollo
Family: Parents, Jeff and Kim Ollo; siblings, Jacqueline, William and twins Phillip and James; fiance, 2nd Lt. Patrick Bastianelli of Fort Dix, New Jersey
Occupation: Recently commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army
School: 2011 graduate of Brownstown Central High School; 2015 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Field of study: Nuclear engineering
Honors: Superintendent’s Award for Excellence, for being in the top 5 percent of cadets in her class at West Point; the Lt. Gen. Leslie R. Groves Award for being the top graduating nuclear engineering major
Future: U.S. military intelligence training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona and then posting at Fort Bragg in North Carolina next year.