Chinese major and Air Force ROTC cadet Megan Steis hopes to be a fighter pilot, then foreign area officer
Megan Steis, a St. Louis, Missouri, native, knew she wanted to join the military at age 6. Boarding a plane with her family at the St. Louis airport, she saw a soldier in uniform hugging his wife goodbye, and that sight registered with her.
“He was in uniform, probably going on deployment, and I realized that here was a person who was putting service before self. That’s what I wanted to do.”
At the University of Mississippi, she entered the Air Force ROTC program with dreams of one day becoming a pilot.
“The cadets I am in the program with all come from so many different, diverse backgrounds, but we all make up a big family,” Steis said. “We are together all day, every day, and they push me to be the best person and strongest leader I can be.”
Graduating summa cum laude, she majored in Chinese with two minors: aerospace studies and intelligence and security studies. She is part of UM’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, one of 12 Chinese Language Flagship programs in the U.S. Each program provides undergraduate students with pathways to professional-level proficiency in Chinese and cultural literacy.
“I studied in a two-month program at Shanghai University between my freshman and sophomore years,” she said. “You cannot fully learn about a culture unless you immerse yourself in it. I had a Chinese roommate who didn’t speak English, and my language skills improved incredibly.”
Steis would someday like to work in military intelligence, but her first postgraduate goal is to be a fighter pilot like her ROTC mentor, Capt. Ken Angel, who once served as an operations flight commander.
“He has a mindset of ‘mission and people first.’ I knew he was a perfect example of what an officer should be like when I first met him,” she said. “He shows commitment to the highest ideals, and he’s personally committed to his students.”
Steis honed her leadership skills last summer at a two-week Air Force ROTC field training, a rigorous boot camp-style program, where she won the two highest awards in field training: the Distinguished Graduate Award and the Warrior Spirit Award.
She was made cadet wing commander when she began her senior year. This placed her in charge of all 63 cadets and daily operations. She received a Navy Federal Credit Union national award for her leadership and performance throughout the year in this role.
“What I learned this year was to adapt and overcome,” Steis said. “I could not have done any of it without my support team helping me out and having my back.”
Steis said she is driven by her desire to benefit the world and become a great leader.
“I don’t want to leave this world not having done anything to make a lasting, positive impact,” Steis said. “The Air Force is more than just serving the country; it is also about serving the community. It’s about meeting people that can drive you and push you to be the best you can be.”
Steis will graduate from UM in May and be commissioned as a second lieutenant in October. She hopes to become a pilot for the U.S. Air Force and is waiting to hear if she will secure a fall slot in pilot training. ROTC student applications for flight school are backlogged because of COVID-19.
If Steis isn’t able to get into a program for next fall, she will enroll in a master’s program in international affairs at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. That graduate education will serve her well in a job she’s aiming for after she serves as a fighter pilot: foreign area officer, a liaison between foreign countries and embassies.
“I come from a nonmilitary family,” she said. “I didn’t grow up knowing people in the military, but ever since I was little, I wanted to do something bigger than myself.”
Story by Kathryn Albritton/College of Liberal Arts