Reason Behind NROTC Calculus&Physics Requirement?

NavRattler

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Jul 2, 2018
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Hello all,

The title here is fairly self-explanatory. I am a NROTC midshipman in his second year, on a 4-year scholarship contract.

As someone who is not the greatest at math and science (read: calculus and calculus-based physics), I am quite worried about how NROTC will play out. My question is, why does the Navy place such emphasis on calculus and calculus-based physics in the NROTC pipeline? I aim to better understand their reasoning behind this requirement.

The obvious answer is that the Navy wants more nukes (prospective nuke officers are required to earn a C or better in a year of calculus and calculus-based physics), but the overwhelming majority of NROTC commissionees do not even desire to apply for the nuke program, let alone get accepted to it.

If the Navy seeks to determine an individual's officer-aptitude by putting them through arduous classes, how does that measure account for the very academically-skilled individuals who have little-to-no trouble with those subjects?

Any input would be greatly appreciated!

NOTE: Successful completion of calculus and calculus-based physics is required for 4 year scholarship midshipmen, and highly recommended for potential side-load scholarship or advanced standing midshipmen.
 

MidCakePa

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The “obvious answer” you mention is only partially right. Of course the Navy wants highly capable nuclear officers. Beyond that, though, is the highly technical nature of the entire force, whether surface or sub or aviation. (Marine aviation included, though Marine ground not so much.) Naval and Marine officers are responsible for understanding and operating — directly or indirectly — highly sophisticated, multi-million dollar machinery and weaponry in sometimes unforgiving conditions.

But there’s a more important — and less literal — reason for all the math, chemistry, physics and engineering. NROTC and USNA are not in the business of turning out mathematicians, chemists, physicists and engineers. They exist to develop leaders — men and women capable of leading amid complex strategy, ambiguous conditions, ethical dilemmas and minimal room for error. The fog of war demands officers who are superior analytical thinkers and adept decision-makers, able to quickly gather information, process it, weigh the options and act decisively — all of this with lives, including theirs, at stake.

Few, if any, subjects can force this kind of mastery like a STEM curriculum. English bolsters communication skills, history provides vital context, philosophy nurtures critical thinking, foreign languages promote worldliness. But those subjects are no match for STEM in developing leaders who can handle the overwhelming complexity, precision and zero-sum nature of modern warfare.
 

Tex232

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The “obvious answer” you mention is only partially right. Of course the Navy wants highly capable nuclear officers. Beyond that, though, is the highly technical nature of the entire force, whether surface or sub or aviation. (Marine aviation included, though Marine ground not so much.) Naval and Marine officers are responsible for understanding and operating — directly or indirectly — highly sophisticated, multi-million dollar machinery and weaponry in sometimes unforgiving conditions.

But there’s a more important — and less literal — reason for all the math, chemistry, physics and engineering. NROTC and USNA are not in the business of turning out mathematicians, chemists, physicists and engineers. They exist to develop leaders — men and women capable of leading amid complex strategy, ambiguous conditions, ethical dilemmas and minimal room for error. The fog of war demands officers who are superior analytical thinkers and adept decision-makers, able to quickly gather information, process it, weigh the options and act decisively — all of this with lives, including theirs, at stake.

Few, if any, subjects can force this kind of mastery like a STEM curriculum. English bolsters communication skills, history provides vital context, philosophy nurtures critical thinking, foreign languages promote worldliness. But those subjects are no match for STEM in developing leaders who can handle the overwhelming complexity, precision and zero-sum nature of modern warfare.
Couldn't agree more. Also I think the concept of developing technically-oriented officers is something that the Navy has grasped far better than the other services. Unfortunately, the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps do not care so much about what an officer's degree is in. What the other services have failed to realize is that people with technical backgrounds often have better analytical skills that allow them to solve problems both on the battlefield and in the classroom.
 

flieger83

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people with technical backgrounds often have better analytical skills that allow them to solve problems both on the battlefield and in the classroom.

Really? Where is the evidence that supports that claim?
You probably won't find it, even if you search EBSCOhost.

I "think" that the reason STEM subjects are so highly valued is, as stated, their inherent requirement to think analytically and logically. That's the value they bring, IMHO. I studied mechanical engineering; in 32 years in the AF, I never EVER used the things I'd studied. However...in learning how nuclear weapons worked, their employment, etc., all my learning came to the forefront. I used that intellect in problem solving during Desert Storm when I had to mentally compute fuel burns for the planes in my group, the available divert airfields, weapons employment options, etc., all at the same time, while communicating on three radios. The "logical thought process" was critical then and now. Analytical thought processes, the ability to think ahead and plan/solve multiple problem simultaneously....that was the value of calculus and engineering.

It works...it's a pain in the butt...but it works. And this is from a guy that proudly claims his class rank: 872 of 958. I was a "DG!"

Did graduate!

Steve
USAFA ALO
USAFA '83
 

NavyHoops

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Although I think the technical courses help to think critically and push someone, I actually think you can get this equally from non-STEM courses. I was a history major at USNA who served in a very technical MOS, became an engineer as a civilian and have advanced degrees in engineering and non-engineering. The courses I learned the most from... criminal justice and history. Why? Great professors who challenged my thinking’s rationalization, strategy and conclusions. It changed how I thought, approached problems and came to conclusions. Like fleiger I had an MOS, where I spent a lot of time on multiple radios, calculating fuel loads, calculating vectors, and managing a million other things. I was the only officer in my class to pass my exams in MOS school the first time. I think my entire USNA education helped me balance that and probably Plebe year more than anything as someone could yell or distract me all day... didn’t phase me.

The bottom line is the Navy and Marine Corps, nuke or not, is very technical. The cockpit of a plane or engine of a ship is challenging as can be. It only gets more complex. Even the Lt leading a platooon gets handed gear that connects to X and gets info on Y and then needs to man an Ops Center another week that is full of complex computer systems. The Navy and Marine Corps also needs officers who can help with testing in the fleet and do tours developing requirements, policy, acquisition, engineering, testing, etc. The STEM part of your education helps build a well rounded background for these opportunities.
 

Capt MJ

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Analytical skills and critical thinking can be honed in both STEM and non-STEM studies. STEM knowledge helps in a very practical way.

Officers will supervise sailors and Marine enlisted personnel doing the hands-on work. They will know it to the nuts and bolts; their leaders should have an informed awareness of basic systems, functions, requirements, scientific principles, etc., to help them prioritize, resource and deploy those technical assets. I couldn’t take apart, fix and re-assemble an electric motor, but I knew what I mentioned above, and was able to ask intelligent questions that helped me make decisions. The design, acquisition, field usage, repair and replacement of the Navy and Marine Corp’s tech gear and weapons, the oversight of, is often a major part of an officer’s job.

Ancient sea story from the dusty annals: Before women were issued working uniforms , at my first duty station, I borrowed coveralls and waterproof boots to go down into the bilges of one of “my” YTB-Class tugboats to see what the EN1 (senior repair petty officer) was talking about with the failing bilge pump. I was able to hold my own in the discussion. I then knew how to characterize the malfunction in the required Navy CASREP (casualty report), as to whether the tug was fully mission capable. Did I have to go down there? No, but as the new JO (and first female DivO), I had to demonstrate willingness and appreciation of what my enlisted sailors dealt with - in a dark, smelly, cramped bilge deck on a hot Rota, Spain, July day. I believe I passed a test with the Port Services Division Chief Petty Officers that day. Everyday deckplate leadership can be a funny mix of things. The healthy officer-enlisted team relationship thrives on mutual appreciation and strong two-way communications, which strengthens the required respect between ranks.

My point - STEM knowledge is a key underpinning to informed leadership, whether in an operational assignment or at a staff desk.

P.S. Not long after, Navy women did get summer white, khaki, steel-toed boots, etc. It took a few more years before we were allowed to have gold braid on our covers and wear a sword...
 
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OldRetSWO

USNA 78/parent 11/BGO for >25yrs
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people with technical backgrounds often have better analytical skills that allow them to solve problems both on the battlefield and in the classroom.

Really? Where is the evidence that supports that claim?
You probably won't find it, even if you search EBSCOhost.

I "think" that the reason STEM subjects are so highly valued is, as stated, their inherent requirement to think analytically and logically. That's the value they bring, IMHO. I studied mechanical engineering; in 32 years in the AF, I never EVER used the things I'd studied. However...in learning how nuclear weapons worked, their employment, etc., all my learning came to the forefront. I used that intellect in problem solving during Desert Storm when I had to mentally compute fuel burns for the planes in my group, the available divert airfields, weapons employment options, etc., all at the same time, while communicating on three radios. The "logical thought process" was critical then and now. Analytical thought processes, the ability to think ahead and plan/solve multiple problem simultaneously....that was the value of calculus and engineering.

It works...it's a pain in the butt...but it works.

I think that flieger83 has the essence boiled down here. In 27 yrs as a Surface Warfare Officer with lots of time on the missiles and gun side of things, I probably never actually used calculus in my job (s) BUT (!), I often used pieces from different Engineering courses especially Systems Engineering and Wires (EE) along with physics/chem, etc. Calc was needed to take/understand those courses so, while I didn't actually use Calc. . . I could not have used what I did use without Calc

And this is from a guy that proudly claims his class rank: 872 of 958. I was a "DG!"

Did graduate!

One of my roommates proudly tells that he is a "Distinguished Graduate. . . the Distinction being that I graduated"
 

k2rider

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I got your back Rattler....Some people are born to be LEADERS and some aren't. No amount of STEM related education is going to make somebody into a leader. Most of the best leaders I worked for didn't have a college degree (and many were enlisted military folks) while the brainiacs tended to be the worst with no aptitude to actually LEAD when the _____ hit the fan.
 

USMCGrunt

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There is an interesting article in the Sept 24 Business Week magazine entitled “An Army of Macgyvers” which has an interesting take on this subject. The Marines are studying the innovative process in order to become better problem solvers. The civilian instructor advises that “Engineers tend to overthink and execute poorly.”

Not an indictment of STEM majors just a counterpoint for this discussion.

The truth (and reality) resides in the middle ground between all these posts.
 

CrewDad

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Many good posts here. NavRattler. I understand why you ask the question. But this questioning time has passed. This is something you could have explored in Freshman year and prepared yourself incrementally to be ready for Calculus. Navy for Navy option is only asking from you 2 semesters of Cal and 2 semesters of Physics. If you're at the Academy, you have significantly more Math and Science core to fulfill, about 2.5 years if you're a non Engineering major. You may even be allowed to take any 2 semester science that are calculus based. Like many said here, understanding principles of Physics is critical to understand and operate ships, planes, subs, weaponry, and munitions and to lead missions successfully. All tools in the military have elements of physics. All deal with understanding force, acceleration, distance, friction, thermodynamics, aerodynamics, mass, density, entropy, arc. You just can't escape it. So if you don't understand physics, you will have hard time operating the modern fighting machine.

Likewise, Calculus is a basic tool to help you calculate the above phenomenon. It's been awhile since I took calculus but it was certainly a useful tool during high school, college, and graduate school. In fact, calculus is used in science, finance, and economics to solve many scientific and social problems. You can use calculus in optimization and derivatives are used to calculate business profit. Of course you have tools in the military and finance to help solve these problems, but when you don't have these tools because tools are broken or not available, you have to rely on the concepts and formula to help you solve problems. You need to finish 2 semesters of Cal by end of Soph year and 2 semesters of Physics by the end of Junior year. You have time but no margin for error unless you get an extension from your unit commander.

You may dread it now but once you immerse in it, and understand it, you will enjoy learning physics and calculus. These two are practical math and science you can practically leverage throughout your lifetime in most profession and in everyday living. You'll be fine!
 
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USMCGrunt

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Math is not a requirement for NROTC-MO. You only need to take the Naval Science classes, Drill, and those classes required by your Major or University.
 

FastFood44

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I'm a tier 3 major on scholarship. I struggle extremely hard with physics and calc, but those aren't even close to the challenges you'll face in the fleet. Work as hard as you can at them, and take them your freshman year so you get them over with. Then, you can build your GPA up from there after freshman year.

Do NOT wait to take them as late as possible, as if you fail them you will be out of time to re-take them and can lose your scholarship.
 
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