Dania Tompkins ’24 spent eight years in the U.S. Navy as an electrician’s mate first class on the USS Ronald Reagan, becoming the first and only female leading petty officer in the reactor division.

A high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test sparked an interest that would carry Dania Tompkins ’24 throughout her military career and beyond. Tompkins is studying liberal arts through the College of Professional Studies at Syracuse University to advance her career in the field of green energy. She qualified for the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Power Program and spent her eight years in the service as an electrician’s mate first class on the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered supercarrier.

“We did all the maintenance and upkeep of the electrical components that support the reactors and ran the electrical equipment for the ship,” Tompkins explains. “We ran all the power to the ship—the generators and the motors.”

Tompkins earned the distinction of being the first and only female leading petty officer in the reactor division when she ended her assignment. She says out of the 400 to 450 service members in the reactor division only about 8% were female, leading them to become close friends. Even though Tompkins holds the distinction herself, she says that she always pushed her female coworkers to be their best. “I wanted them all to do well.” 

Now Tompkins, who after leaving the Navy went into the field of civilian nuclear power working for National Grid, is interested in expanding her knowledge base with a degree in liberal arts. She is working toward her degree part time while she works full time at National Grid as a project manager. She’s certain her degree, which she plans to use as a stepping stone to a graduate degree someday, will be beneficial to her career, where she’s working on projects that bring more green energy to New York. “The classes that I’m taking have opened my mind to a lot of different perspectives and thinking about things in new ways,” she says.

One thing Tompkins has enjoyed about her education journey is taking classes with students who have recently graduated high school. “They have different views because they’re young and I try to appreciate that. It’s interesting hearing them talk from such a different perspective, and then there’s me, a post-traditional student, 42 years old and I see things from a different light.” She says listening to her fellow students has broadened her horizons and forced her to think about certain things in a new way.

Tompkins has also sought the assistance from the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA) and the Office of Veteran Success, whom she says was particularly helpful when it came to applying for veterans benefits and later with applying for a scholarship. “The Office of Veteran Success was really wonderful with the GI Bill process. They made it very simple.”

They also alerted her to several scholarships for which she was eligible. Tompkins received the Lucy and Joseph Napoli Veterans Scholarship Endowed Fund. She’s grateful for scholarships such as these, saying “It’s wonderful that donors help people. It made me feel special being selected to receive it.”