Natalie Stephens Awarded Air Force Cadet of the Year


Natalie Stephens (right) with her classmates in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps in Novemeber, 2020. (Courtesy Natalie Stephens)

By Vanessa Hudson, Editor in Chief


University of Utah senior Natalie Stephens was named Navy Federal Credit Union’s Air Force ROTC Student of the Year for 2022. The prestigious award honors “the best and brightest ROTC seniors across the nation.”

Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps is an officer training program to get commissioned into the Air Force. This allows students to join the military while also working towards getting a college degree.

After doing some research, Stephens decided ROTC was the best option for her. 

“ROTC can have a lot of benefits: you can get a degree and also be training for the military at the same time versus joining the military right out of high school,” she said.

Stephens said she was always interested in joining the military because it requires a lot of physical fitness and she didn’t want a nine-to-five job. 

“I got the opportunity when I was a freshman to ride in the backseat of a jet,” she added. “And when I did that, that’s what kind of sold me on, ‘yeah, I want to fly.'” 

In the summer of 2022, Stephens got her private pilot license and said the thrill of flying through the air is what she loves most about general aviation. 

“And [flying] keeps you on your toes too,” she added. “There are a lot of changing environments while you’re flying. So I love that aspect as well.”

Navy Federal Credit Union’s All-American Scholarship Program awards three winners from the Navy, Army and Air Force ROTC programs across the nation with a $6,500 scholarship.

The program looks for students who characterize the four pillars of ROTC: leadership, military excellence, scholarship and service. 15 students are selected as finalists, five from each branch of service, and three students are selected as students of the year. 

Kainen Wright, fellow ROTC member and Stephens’ best friend, said he knew Stephens would win the award. 

“It wasn’t really too much of a surprise to me; her numbers were literally perfect,” he said. “And she’s just a likable person. So I was like, ‘there’s no way there’s somebody out there that’s gonna get it above her.'”

Wright described Stephens as “an absolute stud.” The two met on the first day of their freshman year and their friendship blossomed from there.

“You need to lean on your people a little bit … so I found myself leaning on her quite a bit,” he added. 

Wright said while his friend is bright, her work ethic is what sets her apart from others.

“She could just go and work out for four hours, come back and then study for five hours, and then go do something productive,” he said. “It’s insane to me.” 

Wright said Stephens was very humble in accepting the award but he had to tell her, “Natalie, you got to know how good you are, right?” 

“I think this was just good to show her that there are people that recognize what she’s putting out,” he said. “I know that she was super stoked about it and she’s super proud to have it.”

Stephens is graduating this spring with a criminology degree. In July, she’s headed to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. She’ll start with administrative work and then pilot training. After her training is done in Arizona, she’ll be moved to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas for Air Force pilot training.



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