NROTC’s Lassen balances military training, challenging mechanical engineering major

MIDN Renee Lassen (submitted photo)

Renee Lassen’s mechanical engineering major demands that she spend hours a day at computers, designing systems and writing code to make those work.

But to keep her jam-packed schedule in order, she swears by something positively quaint – a thick, pink paisley day-planner, its pages crammed with her neat, tiny writing.

As an engineering third-year at Vanderbilt University, a public affairs officer for the university’s Naval ROTC unit and a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, Lassen is accustomed to finding what works best for varied aspects of her life.

“It’s honestly time management,” she said. “You have to recognize when your work responsibility takes precedent. You can’t be afraid if you find out all of your friends are going out on a Tuesday night when you have a test the next morning – you don’t have time to do that. Students in some of the other majors might.”

At a Feb. 8 banquet, the School of Engineering honored its students who participate in ROTC and Vanderbilt athletics. The event recognized all the extra hours of work such pursuits require.

For NROTC, there’s required physical fitness training at least once a week, although Lassen said she works out at least four days a week. There’s a weekly, three-hour leadership lab, an extra class each semester taught by a naval officer, drill practice at least weekly and color guards for various events.

Lassen wouldn’t change a thing about her full days.

“I enjoy being busy,” she said. “Yesterday, I was working on building a small circuit with an Arduino and breadboard, and it was a lot of fun when I finally got that figured out and it did what I wanted. It’s a very rewarding major to see things work.”

Early decisions

Raised on the James River in Suffolk, Va., Lassen decided early on to join the Navy, as her father had. She loved living on the water and met many members of the Armed Forces in the small town. She dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot and learned that the NROTC would pay for college.

Lassen came to Nashville as a ninth-grader on a summer trip to study music at neighboring Belmont University. She walked the Vanderbilt campus and fell in love with it, learning later about the university’s academic rigor and respected NROTC unit. She applied early decision.

Naval Science Instructor Lt. Jesse Ochoa said Lassen holds herself to high personal standards in every area of life, making her a great addition to Vanderbilt’s unit.

“We place a lot of demands on our midshipmen in terms of time and effort, as does the School of Engineering, but because of her positive, can-do attitude, she has been able to excel in both areas,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that we can send people of Midshipman Lassen’s caliber out to the fleet to lead our sailors and marines. She will represent our unit and Vanderbilt very well.”

If she’s accepted into the highly competitive Navy pilot program, Lassen will fulfill a minimum eight-year commitment to the service. Otherwise, she will spend five years as an officer on a surface warfare ship, her placement decided at the beginning of her senior year. Midshipmen are allowed to choose ships in order, based on their GPA and military scores.

Lassen is the daughter of Fred and Amy Lassen and Suzanne Lassen. Her younger sister, Laura Lassen, is a freshman at the University of Miami.


Heidi Hall, (615) 689-8419
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