Commissioned for Success

By Lea Hart, NC State University

When Beta Theta Pi brother Garrett Welsh speaks about the importance of financial support to a college student, he puts it in simple numbers: Every $500 in support buys a student 50 hours to study, to connect with peers and to work with professors.

“Most on-campus jobs, you may make $10 an hour,” Welsh pointed out. “So that’s 50 less hours of work. As a student, you can do an incredible amount in 50 hours.”

Welsh is the recipient of the first Textile Military Scholarship at NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles, made possible through the philanthropy of Col. Bill Kernodle, a two-time textiles alumnus.

He graduates this month with a B.S. in polymer and color chemistry and minors in forensic science and naval science.

Welsh grew up in Graham, Washington, about an hour south of Seattle. It’s an area where, he said, many people stay for their whole lives. But he was looking to experience someplace completely different when he started thinking about college.

He’d lived in Raleigh when he was very young, and actually didn’t visit NC State during the application process. At the time, he was interested in pursuing engineering and knew the university had a strong program. NC State offered him a competitive financial aid package, and seeking a large university experience with strong academics, athletics and social opportunities, he decided to take a leap of faith and enroll.

“My first experience on campus was moving into Tucker Hall my freshman year,” Welsh recalled.

He spent that first year like many students do. He focused on his academics, got a part-time job at Carmichael Gymnasium and established a peer group. Heading into his sophomore year, though, Welsh knew he wanted to make even more out of his college experience.

“I didn’t really feel like I was striving for concrete or ambitious goals,” he said.

He’d applied unsuccessfully for a Naval ROTC scholarship in high school and military service was still on his mind. During his freshman year, Welsh started to make connections within the Naval ROTC program at NC State. His sophomore year, he joined as a college programmer – essentially the equivalent of a “walk on” for the ROTC – with the goal of eventually picking up a scholarship.

That dream was realized his junior year, when Welsh received a three-year Naval ROTC scholarship, and from there, he said, “the journey has kind of written itself.”

Upon graduation, he’ll commission with the Navy and has orders to report to flight school in Florida at the end of May. He’ll spend the next two years learning to fly with plans to stay with the Navy for as long as he can.

“It’s been my childhood dream,” Welsh said. “I still kind of struggle with the question of why I’ve been attracted to the Navy and naval aviation, but I have always been enamored with the Navy since I was a kid.”

In addition to the Navy ROTC scholarship, Welsh said the support of the Textile Military Scholarship over the past two years has been a tremendous help.
“My first two years, I paid for that out of pocket,” Welsh said. “I had debt, I was working on campus.”

But it wasn’t just the financial support that meant a great deal to Welsh. The scholarship gave him a confidence boost in knowing that someone else believed in him as well.

“It’s so easy to get really caught up in the grind and the hustle of being a student and trying to do the best you can with your academics and your military aptitude,” he said.

Welsh continued to work at the gym for more than two years, but eventually took a break as things got more rigorous with his academic work. He enjoyed the job so much, however, that this past summer and fall he eventually returned to the work.

He’s also a member of Beta Theta Pi, serving in an executive role with the fraternity as vice president of education.

“I had an amazing time being a part of the Greek community,” he said. “When I joined, we were in our infancy – it’s been nice to put forth the effort and see the organization grow.”

When he talks about his experience at NC State, Welsh said there’s so much that’s been extraordinary, but the people stand out most.

“It’s been the relationships that I’ve created and maintained here,” he said. “The people that I’ve met at the university … you meet people from all over the country and all over the world, providing the different experiences that they’ve had.

“Being exposed to that, as well as being able to share my own thoughts and experiences, has completely transformed me as an individual.”

Of course, his last few months at NC State have been unique due to COVID-19. Graduation is still taking place, even if ceremonies are delayed, and Welsh admits he’s extremely disappointed as he was looking forward to a May commencement and commissioning, with his entire extended family coming from the West Coast to celebrate. But he remains committed to looking ahead.

“At the end of the day, I still get my bachelor’s degree and I still get to commission into the Navy,” Welsh said. “And I have all of these experiences – no one can take those away from me.”