Caitlin Lozano planned to follow in her father’s footsteps by serving in the U.S. armed forces. But being named the No. 2 Army ROTC cadet in the nation, with plans to enter medical school next fall – that’s a path she paved on her own.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” said Lozano, a senior at Colorado State University who grew up in Colorado Springs. “Less than 1 percent of the country volunteers in the armed forces, and my dad served for more than 20 years. I’m proud of that, and I wanted a service career I would be proud of, too.”
Lozano is an Army ROTC cadet majoring in microbiology and carrying a 4.0 grade-point average in CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. After graduating this week, she will attend New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., in the fall. If all goes according to plan, Lozano will gain a license to practice medicine and enter the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a commissioned officer.
Marching to medical school
Given her accomplishments, there’s little doubt Lozano will fulfill her plan: In November, she was ranked the No. 2 Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet in the country among 5,617 cadets graduating from colleges and universities in spring 2015. The national Order of Merit List ranks cadets based on grade-point averages, physical tests, proven leadership, and performance at a monthlong Leader Development and Assessment Course at Fort Knox, Ky.
Lozano ranked just behind a student at the University of North Georgia. Her achievement allowed Lozano to delay her active duty service obligation in order to pursue medical school.
The young scientist credited Colorado State’s Army ROTC program – the Ram Battalion – for supporting her interests and success. Like others nationwide, the program officially formed in 1916, yet dates to the first military instruction on campus in 1884.
“It’s really a reflection on the whole program,” Lozano said. As a cadet, she has taken part in battalion traditions, including the Bronze Boot Run that precedes the yearly football game pitting CSU and the University of Wyoming; she also has mentored younger cadets.
“I’ve done my best to mostly focus on school and work really, really hard,” said Lozano, who is enrolled in the university’s Honors Program. “I had heard that I might be ranked in the top 10, but to actually see my name on that list – it was awesome.”
Lozano’s place among the very top ROTC cadets in the nation is notable for the doors the ranking opens, said Lt. Col. James Blanton, professor of military studies at CSU.
“It’s a unique opportunity for her,” Blanton said. “Years from now, will the Army remember that she was ranked the No. 2 cadet, or how many points she received in each area? Probably not. But it opens up opportunities now that really pave the way for success in the future.”
Training, studying to save lives
Lozano’s interest in medicine began during a fourth-grade assignment that required students to find the source of a hypothetical disease outbreak.
“I had never thought so hard in my life,” Lozano said, laughing. “I became fascinated. It still amazes me that things that are so little have the ability to wreak havoc on such a complex system like the human body.”
She pursued microbiology, the study of microscopic organisms and a scientific discipline that contributes to understanding infectious diseases. As a freshman, Lozano contacted CSU infectious disease researcher Dr. Sue VandeWoude to ask about undergraduate research opportunities in the VandeWoude Laboratory, which investigates viruses that affect wild and domestic cats.
“I remember her sitting in my office and telling me how cool she thinks infectious disease is,” said VandeWoude, an acclaimed scientist and associate dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “She’s definitely the best undergraduate that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor.”
Lozano has worked in VandeWoude’s lab for more than three years, studying primarily feline immune deficiency. She contributed to the discovery of three feline herpesviruses and helped publish research, VandeWoude said.
“If I ever end up in a hospital and she walks in to take care of me, I’d be very relieved,” VandeWoude said. “Her talent, compassion and ability to do an outstanding job leave me very confident in Caitlin’s future as a doctor.”
Blanton, the Ram Battalion leader, presented Lozano to her fellow cadets as an example of excellence.
“I said, ‘This is who you want to be,’” Blanton said, emphasizing Lozano’s 4.0 GPA. “I want to encourage students to step up and focus on their grades and their school work.”
Blanton even asked Lozano to take over as battalion commander during this spring semester, hoping she will motivate other cadets and lead by example. This role is on top of ROTC training, laboratory work and studying.
Lozano said she’s up to the task: “You have to give your all if you want to be successful.”