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VIENNA, Va. (December 13, 2023) – Navy Federal Credit Union announced today that it selected the top Air Force, Army and Navy/Marine students as the three ROTC All-American Scholarship Program Students of the Year. Launched six years ago, the program honors the nation’s best and brightest ROTC seniors in all branches of military service. 

A panel of judges chooses the recipients based on the pillars of the ROTC program: Leadership, Military Excellence, Scholarship and Service. Navy Federal has received nearly 1,000 ROTC student nominations through its scholarship program since 2018.

“We’re honored to recognize the exemplary leadership skills, community service and academic achievements of these cadets and midshipman,” said Jamey Shuls, Air Force Veteran and a judge for the credit union’s ROTC All-American Scholarship Program. “In and out of the classroom, it’s remarkable to see the hard work and dedication they’ve put into reaching their goals.”

The Students of the Year each receive a $6,500 scholarship, and their booster club or student fund receives a $5,000 donation.

Representing Stanford University’s Air Force ROTC unit, Athena Chang is studying mechanical engineering and computer science. Among many esteemed positions, she’s senior vice president of Stanford Women in Business and a research assistant at Stanford’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. 

“I really think that a core part of leadership is being exposed to a lot of different experiences,” said Cadet Chang. “Being able to understand people’s differences will create a more empathetic environment. It shapes people’s perspectives and challenges new ideas.”

She also held the highest position in the cadet wing as the Wing Commander during the Fall 2022 semester—leading the Wing with inspirational and thoughtful precision. She hopes to get a Euro NATO Jet Propulsion Training slot to begin her career as a fighter pilot.

Next, Paul Kealy of the University of Oklahoma’s Army ROTC unit is studying French and serves as a Cadet Platoon Leader. Before joining the University of Oklahoma’s Army ROTC program, he was a non-commissioned officer in the 75th Ranger Regiment and led a five-man infantry fire team of Rangers in combat. 

“Deploying for me has had an impact because being over there, seeing what being in the Army is about and what we have to do, has stayed with me and helped me keep motivation,” said Cadet Kealy. 

Additionally, Cadet Kealy carried a 45-pound pack through the Bataan Memorial Death March, a 26.2 mile hike through New Mexico to honor American and Filipino prisoners of war in the Pacific theater of WWII—an incredible challenge he plans to complete again. He’s also very involved in his community and cares deeply about supporting military families.

Finally, Sirius James of the University of Washington’s Navy/Marines ROTC unit is studying political science and naval science. He’s held several leadership roles within his unit, including Battalion Physical Training Instructor, Regulation Drill, Platoon Commander, Company Commander and Squad Leader.

MIDN James also developed a six-month training plan for Marine Option midshipmen at the University of Washington—helping to address and overcome gaps in the current training curriculum. He’s worked with Treehouse for Kids, a program fighting child hunger in the greater Seattle area, as well as Green Seattle, a forest restoration program.

“What motivates me to pursue the military career isn’t necessarily for myself and what it can provide me, but more what I can provide for our battalion,” said MIDN James. “Being able to go and essentially care and lead them is what motivates me every day. There’s no greater honor.”

The Students of the Year will be honored guests of the Military Bowl on December 27 at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. and be featured on ESPN’s broadcast of the game.

To learn more about the scholarship program, visit

About Navy Federal Credit Union: Established in 1933 with only seven members, Navy Federal now has the distinct honor of serving 13 million members globally and is the world’s largest credit union. As a member-owned and not-for-profit organization, Navy Federal always puts the financial needs of its members first. Membership is open to all Department of Defense and Coast Guard Active Duty, veterans, civilian and contractor personnel, and their families. Dedicated to its mission of service, Navy Federal employs a workforce of 24,000 and has a global network of over 350 branches. For more information about Navy Federal Credit Union, visit Federally insured by NCUA. Equal Opportunity Employer.