When Catherine Dina arrived at UVa-Wise two years ago, she never imagined she would one day find herself “off course” in the Knoxville woods that surround the Forensic Anthropology Facility, better known as the Body Farm, but that’s exactly what happened to the Alexandria, Virginia resident.

Dina, a first year cadet in the Army ROTC program at UVa-Wise, was teamed with four other cadets on a land navigation assignment in a joint exercise with other ROTC programs in the region. Her team—all female—were to use a map grid to plot points and navigate around the unfamiliar woods. It didn’t take long for Dina and the team to realize they were off course.

“It was pretty bad,” she said.

A few minutes later the team decided the best course of action was to retrace their steps to the starting point and begin the task again. Their determination was rewarded with a fresh start and a perfect score. Dina and the cadets plotted the five places they needed to locate. Their second attempt to navigate the Body Farm woods was a success, and the 22-year-old communication major found she enjoyed land navigation immensely.

“It’s a good skill to have,” she said.

Major Marc Sandefur, with the UVa-Wise ROTC program, smiled when he recalled Dina’s first foray at the Body Farm.

“She didn’t know what she was doing, but she picked up on it fast,” he said. “She’s going to do well.”

Dina’s map to UVa-Wise took a few twists and turns along the way as well. In high school, she wanted to see if she could make it as an athlete at the collegiate level, but she also had had a growing interest in a military career. As is generally the case, her mother offered sage advice.

“Mom said to try the athletics at the collegiate level, and she said if I decided to change things, I could join the ROTC program,” Dina said.

Dina played lacrosse for a while and enjoyed the experience. She said the coaches and players were excellent, and she enjoyed the competition. As she thought about her future career—she wants to be a speech pathologist—she turned to ROTC.

“One of the benefits of ROTC is it pays for half of my tuition,” she said. “That makes a big difference for me.”

Dina’s parents, both visually impaired, were unable to attend her contracting ceremony. Her mother cried as she listened to a video recording of the day Dina agreed to join the Army after her graduation and completion of the ROTC program.

When she joined ROTC, Dina figured she was in good physical shape because of her athletic training. She was in for a surprise.

“I thought I’d be at the top of the world with my fitness,” she said. “I was not, and it was something they fixed quickly.”

Sandefur said many cadets who are athletes begin with the same thoughts Dina had about physical fitness. They soon realize being an athlete and a soldier have different physical requirements. An athlete relies on speed, but a soldier must work on endurance as well.

“She has greatly improved,” he said. “ She has become one of our stronger cadets, even though this is her first year with us. We have that a lot with athletes. They do more with speed, but they soon learn the new ways.”

Dina also enjoys the ROTC labs. The first part of an ROTC lab happens in a classroom. The cadets learn how to carry out an assault or an ambush or conduct reconnaissance. The second part of a lab happens later in the academic year. The cadets are outdoors practicing the skills they learned in the classroom at the platoon and squad levels.

While ROTC keeps cadets busy, there is always time to experience college life, Dina added. She plans to join a sorority in the fall and to be a part of campus life.

“I found out that I can hold my own,” she said. “It is possible to be involved in other activities and ROTC.”

Dina also enjoys the outdoor recreation offered in the southwestern Virginia region. She often hikes on the numerous trails. Her last hike to the Devil’s Bathtub, a scenic area that is not always easy to traverse, had her waist deep in one of the many stream crossings.

She has two more years left in her undergraduate and ROTC career.

“I would like to go active duty,” she said. “I want to work with soldiers who have experienced brain trauma so I can help them regain their speech again.”

To continue her Army goals, she must pass her physical training test and her academic career records are sent to Cadet Command for review. Upon her successful completion of the ROTC program requirements and after her degree is conferred, Dina will commission as a second lieutenant in the Army.

For more information on the ROTC program at UVa-Wise, visit www.uvawise.edu.