Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

Graduating Senior Exemplifies Selfless Service

Chelsea Sonderman graduates magna cum laude with a degree in marketing and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army — with a few detours along the way.

College of Business student and Marvin P. Kolodzik Business Scholar Chelsea Sonderman was one of four UC Army ROTC cadets who took part in a special December commissioning ceremony the day before Commencement. Her path to graduation from the University of Cincinnati took a few unexpected turns along the way.

Chelsea had attended only two quarters at UC (spring and summer '05) before she was called to Hurricane Katrina a mere four hours after the storm hit.

“I came back a week late to school for fall quarter 2005 and left Jan. 2, 2006, for overseas and Operation Enduring Freedom,” Chelsea explains. “Deployment pulled me out of college for almost two years. When I came back, I was a 21-year-old sophomore and way behind my high school peers who were graduating.”

Chelsea says that in her senior year at Anderson High School, her mother had sat her down, and told her “what no senior wants to hear: we are not paying for your college.”

When her parents told her they couldn't pay for college, she applied for scholarships. When she didn't get enough, she decided to join the Ohio Army National Guard to pay for college. She became a student at UC right out of basic training, after high school.

“In basic training, I learned the seven Army values,” she says. “I qualified in most of them, but the one I felt least qualified for was selfless service. I had never done much community service, so I had to ask myself, ‘What is service?'”

In 2005, when she was sent to New Orleans only hours after Hurricane Katrina had hit, her mission involved setting up a triage location in a Kmart parking lot and required her to help people who had just lost everything.

“It was devastating,” she says, “Absolutely devastating.”

“My unit was in charge of handing out water, blankets and those nasty MREs that we, too, were forced to eat,” she explains. “Before one woman grabbed her stuff, she hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for your service. You have given my family and me hope.'”

“Suddenly, I knew what selfless service meant,” she says. “I had to put my life on hold, even if only a short three weeks, to support a greater cause — and I was proud of that.” Chelsea speaks very highly of Army ROTC, saying that it has allowed her to refine her skills as both a leader and a follower: “I love it — best choice I ever made in my life.”

“It helped me take relationships to a higher level and taught me professionalism,” she says. She notes that it came in handy when approaching professors, for example.

“It has also taught me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. It also taught me about camaraderie and that no matter how scared, worried or helpless you feel, there is always someone else who can help you out,” she says. She also admits that having grown up in Harrison, Ohio, and graduating from Anderson High School, that she had not been exposed to very much ethnic diversity in her life.

“My battle buddy grew up totally different from me — she paid her mother's bills, for example,” Chelsea explains. “I learned through the Army that everybody has their own story. I've learned to accept people's differences and to embrace the differences. I'm no longer the big white kid in a little pond — I'm a little white girl who's a minority in the big world.”

“That was a shocker!” she adds with a laugh.

“Not only do I feel I have helped people through my service, my service has helped me as well. It's made me understand that you shouldn't take anything for granted,” she says. “It has also taught me that when things aren't going the best, there is always someone you can reach out to for help. Giving someone a helping hand can not only give another hope, but it can give you hope as well.”

“In 2006, when I was deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom, day in and day out, I did my job just like everyone else. From convoy operations to force protection, I thought I was just doing my duty,” she says. “But when we returned to Ohio in 2007, and the bus rolled into the parking lot, we were welcomed with family, friends and supporters, with yellow ribbons and American flags flying throughout the crowd. Before I even made it to my parents, I had been thanked for my service numerous times. When I got to my parents, all I could think was, ‘Thank you for not paying for my college.'”