“Really hard” and “really fun” are two phrases that don’t typically go together—unless you’re talking with MSOE sophomore Emily Gehrke. That’s how Gehrke describes challenges as an electrical engineering student and as an Air Force ROTC cadet.

Gehrke admits she had a love/hate relationship with the MSOE labs her freshman year. She recalls many a stressful night trying to get the coding to work in Digital Logic 2. “But once you got it working,” she says, “it was the best feeling in the world.”

The mandatory physical training sessions for the Air Force ROTC program are a different kind of grueling. “It’s really intense, but it’s good,” says Gehrke. “It’s fun because you’re all together in a group and everyone is cheering each other on.”

Along with her MSOE course work, Gehrke can spend six to eight hours a week in ROTC activities. In Leadership Laboratory, cadets learn to march and move as a unit. In Group Leadership Projects or GLPs, the officers give cadets a problem to work out together. Cadets also learn about military, American and global history.

Gehrke credits her grandfather, an officer in the Navy, for planting the military seed. “He traveled all over the world, and he had so many opportunities that wouldn’t have come to him if he hadn’t joined the Navy.”

But Gehrke chose the Air Force over the Navy, and while Grandpa was a bit mad at first, she says he eventually came around. “The Air Force needed more tech majors and was more technology oriented.” Right now, she’s leaning toward a career in either aircraft or weapons development.

While Gehrke says she’s always wanted to do something in the military, she admits having some doubts her first year as a cadet. Lieutenant Colonel John Wheeler and recruiting officer Major Jason Esquell knew of her struggle and encouraged her to stick it out.

Within minutes of that meeting, Gehrke got an email saying she had been accepted into the very competitive Project Global Officer (GO) program. Then the following week, she was awarded a hefty Air Force ROTC scholarship. Gehrke says she knew then it was meant to be.

Under the Project GO program, Gehrke decided to attend the Arabic Summer Language Institute at the University of Northern Georgia in Dahlonega. The six-week intensive program covers a year’s worth of university language and cultural education. Again, in Gehrke’s words, “It’s really hard, but it’s really fun at the same time.”

The experience brings together cadets from different military branches, from all over the country. Classes include field trips to nearby Arabic communities, and Gehrke says she’s especially excited to learn Arabic dancing.

Despite her busy schedule, Gehrke finds ways to squeeze in more activities. She loves teaching swimming classes in her hometown Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, and will teach girls to code during the school year. She is treasurer of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and plans to join Kappa Sigma Mu, a multicultural service sorority.

And for anyone curious about Air Force ROTC, Gehrke says she would definitely make time to answer any questions.