By Cadet Leeann Jones ’19
“I love that.” Michael Schoka ’17 said with a chuckle as he saw a line of first-year cadets dragging down the hall, sounding off to upper-class cadets. “I forgot how much I miss this place.”
Returning to Virginia Tech is a great experience for any alumnus, even a recent graduate. In December 2016, Schoka obtained a degree in mathematics and a minor in leadership studies. A member of Lima Company, Schoka served as first sergeant his junior year and regimental commander in fall 2016. He used his experiences to lead others to excellence, earning him the Douglas MacArthur Award and the Division of Student Affairs Aspire! Award for self-understanding and integrity.
Today, he is a police officer for the Prince William County (Virginia) Police Department.
In his senior year of high school, Schoka felt drawn to a life of service. “I decided I wanted to join the military,” he recalled. “I felt like the Lord had put a calling on my life to join the military and serve my country.”
His brother, Andrew Schoka ’16, had gone through his first year in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and Michael was intrigued by the program. He wanted the full experience: the best education he could get combined with a military training environment. It also helped that his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, decided to attend Virginia Tech. “That also kind of persuaded me a little bit,” Schoka said. “I applied, clicked the cadet button, and that was the start of an awesome journey.”
That journey wasn’t without obstacles. While home from winter break during his first year, he was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten damages the small intestine. He tried to stay positive, adjusting to the new dietary restrictions and physical regime while he waited for a waiver from the Air Force.
The waiver never came. Schoka lost his scholarship and had to leave the Air Force ROTC program.
He switched to the Citizen-Leader Track and finished what he started as a cadet. “If it weren’t for VPI Battalion, I wouldn’t have been able to be in the Corps,” Schoka said. “It was definitely a big change, something that was challenging because I saw all my classmates and good friends that I was either in ROTC with or in a company with, and they were doing basically what I wanted to be doing. I’m very thankful that I was able to see the value of this program even without the promise of a commission at the end of it.”
Schoka immersed himself in the VPI Battalion and the Corps. He strived to learn anything and everything he could.
“I tried to still encourage people to see the value of the program even if it doesn’t mean getting a commission, but just to better yourself as a leader and as a person,” he said. “The Corps has a habit of making solid people rock solid and just fine-tuning bits and pieces of your life that you didn’t realize needed improvement, making them razor sharp. Really, some of the brightest and best students at Virginia Tech are in the Corps.”
Schoka looked for another way to answer the call to service that motivated him. It came in the form of an internship with the U.S. Department of Justice. He worked with the FBI for two summers and intermittently throughout the rest of his time at Virginia Tech. This experience introduced him to the law enforcement profession and gave him a new path to follow.
The last semester of his senior year, Schoka received a phone call after a math class offering him a job at the Prince William County Police Department.
“It’s a great department. The officers I work with are phenomenal,” he said. “It’s nice to be surrounded by people that have committed their lives, their time and their careers up to this point to serving and protecting.”
Schoka is a patrol officer. His job requires him to manage many different things at once, from responding to calls to doing paperwork. He compares the time-management skills needed at the department to those he learned as regimental commander.
He specifically recalled Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart’s piece of advice, “If you can get something done in two minutes, do it now,” as a rule he still follows today.
“There’s little things like that, moments you’ll remember and look back on and just be grateful that you had such great mentors and staff,” Schoka said. “Everyone is just so invested in helping you become the best person you can be.”
Virginia Tech has one of the highest commissioning rates among the nation’s senior military colleges, but through the Corps’ Citizen-Leader Track, students like Schoka are able to continue their journey of service outside of a military career.
“I don’t think there was anything else I could have done at Virginia Tech to prepare myself better for my career, or for any career, than going through the Corps,” said Schoka.
His advice to cadets is simple. “If you spend time trying to help other people reach their goals, you’ll often find that you surpass the ones you set for yourself. Gifting someone your time and energy and just showing that you are concerned and invested in their development is something that will help you tenfold down the road.”