Maybe it was being the youngest in a family of 10 children that made Zack Betts so mentally and physically tough. Or, maybe it was the influence of his father and uncle, U.S. Air Force veterans, or of his brother Derrick, currently serving in the U.S. Army in Kuwait. No matter his source of motivation, the University of Nevada, Reno education major has propelled himself to be ranked among the top ROTC cadets in country - number 13 out of 5,643 senior cadets, to be exact.
The ranking was based on grade-point average, performance in the Leadership Development and Assessment Course that all cadets complete between their junior and senior years, and other factors, such as extracurricular activities. Betts has a 3.96 GPA, ranked second in his regiment in the leadership development course and has been involved in other campus activities, including being a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society and Pi Lambda Theta, a national honor society of educators.
Although Betts said he "wasn't a stellar high school student," he graduated with an Honors Diploma from Fernley High School, where he also played football, while holding down a full-time job.
"I'd like to coach and teach one day, after retiring from my military career," Betts said. "I feel education is somewhere you can actually make a difference, especially in high school. It's such a pivotal point in life."
But for now, Betts has his sights set on flying military helicopters. After graduating from the University in May and receiving his commission as second lieutenant, he will be off to Fort Rucker in Alabama to begin the next chapter of his military journey as an Army aviator.
"I always wanted to fly, as far back as I can remember," he said. "I can remember my Uncle, who was a pilot, always telling me stories when I was young."
And, although competition is always high to be accepted into the flight program in the military, it was no surprise that Betts was chosen, according to U.S. Army Major Michael Minaudo, chair of the University's Military Science Department.
"Zack is a true leader with untapped potential," Minaudo said.
Betts, who was awarded the University's four-year ROTC presidential scholarship after his first semester at the University, has earned numerous distinctions for his efforts, including the Superior Cadet Award and the George M. Wisham Leadership and Fellowship Award, to name a few. But, Betts said that his achievements haven't come easily.
"ROTC has been a huge commitment - a full-time job really. And, they really pushed me to do well academically too."
He said his professors in the College of Education have been equally "awesome - they worked with me whenever I needed to miss class for ROTC activities. They were really supportive," he said.
Betts already has his sights set on earning his master's degree in education. He thinks his interest in the military and education go hand in hand.
"They coincide very well actually," he said. "I always enjoy teaching the younger cadets."
Betts is putting his leadership skills to work this year as captain of the University's Ranger Challenge team. He has been on the team every year while at the University, competing against other teams from the West each November. The Nevada, Reno team has won the competition four out of the last five years, including last year when the team hosted the competition at Stead. This year, the competition will be held in Las Vegas, Nov. 19.
"I plan for us to retain that title this year," Betts said. "Being captain, and competing in Las Vegas against UNLV, and the others, I really want to win," he said.