Answering the call of the sea
With a 4.0 grade point average and oodles of top-notch extra curricular activities, Barlow High School senior Connor Ropp had his pick of colleges or careers. He chose to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brother and just was accepted into the highly-selective United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
The Boring resident mulled his many options and says, "I kept coming back to the Coast Guard. It pulls me like a magnet and I decided not to fight it."
The soon-to-be cadet has fans at Barlow.
"Connor is a quiet leader who simply knows what it takes to get a job done," says Principal Bruce Schmidt. "Whether that be as an athlete, National Honor Society Officer, a student or in the community."
Connor, 18, solidified his decision to serve in the military and to go to the Coast Guard Academy after a one-week Coast Guard summer program last year called AIM (Academy Introduction Mission). AIM gives kids entering their senior year of high school a taste of what the Coast Guard might be like.
Connor already had more than an inkling, since his dad, Pat, served in the Coast Guard for 25 years until retiring six years ago. Pat's last posting was in Sitka, Alaska, where he was in charge of safety and prevention for that Coast Guard district.
Although Pat is retired from his military service in the Coast Guard, he hasn't strayed far from the water. He's now the director of operations at Portland-based Shaver Transportation, a barge and tugboat company.
The United States Coast Guard Academy is among the most selective colleges in the country and unlike the other military academies, it doesn't require a congressional nomination for admission. Students are accepted strictly on their merits.
The students, called cadets, graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as ensigns. They can get degrees in nine fields of study including several types of engineering, government and management. There is no cost for tuition, or room and board. They must serve in the Coast Guard for at least five years after graduation.
"Connor consistently pushes himself and does so without reservation. He never looks for acknowledgement and his team approach will serve him well as an officer," Principal Schmidt says.
Connor is excited about the possibilities at the academy.
"They have excellent engineering programs. My planned major is mechanical engineering. It's that math-science thing I love," Connor says.
Dad Pat entered the Coast Guard Academy in 1987. Pat's oldest son, Nathan, will be a senior at the academy when Connor enters in this summer.
"Having Nathan there will either help me or …" Connor trails off laughing.
Connor's twin brother, Jacob, also considered the academy and tried it on for size at the AIM week. But Jacob decided it wasn't for him and will attend Bethel College, a small Christian college in Mishawaka, Indiana. He'll spend three years there and two at the University of Notre Dame, in Notre Dame, Indiana, and come out with two undergraduate degrees in engineering.
He plans to use his engineering skills to build water and infrastructure projects in Third World countries and be a "missionary engineer," says Pat, proudly.
Both parents are understandably proud of their four children. Their oldest, Emily, is a fourth-grade teacher, married to a nurse.
"I'm super proud of them," says mom, Jill, joking, "I always say God gave me four easy ones because he knew I couldn't handle four hard ones."
Connor hasn't decided what path he will follow in the Coast Guard once he graduates from the academy.
"I thought it would be really cool to fly helicopters. Inspections would be interesting. I really plan on figuring that out when I get there. There are so many things I can do," he said.
Pat says he tried not to influence Nathan or Connor to enter the Academy, or on choices once they decided to attend.
"The boys knew what I did, but I really want them to go their own way. I didn't want to force them into my Coast Guard," he said.
The Coast Guard life means frequent moves around the country.
"We moved every two or three years," Pat says.
And, while some kids might find that distressing, Connor wasn't fazed.
"It's a give and take. I think the pluses outweigh the negative side," Connor says. "Having brothers and sisters made the transitions so easy."
The frequent moves might account for Connor's confidence and adaptability to new situations.
Jill says the family tried to exploit and treasure all the places the Coast Guard took them to live.
"We tried really hard to show the kids an appreciation for the culture and diversity of each area. We found what makes an area special and then took advantage of that," she says.
That included hunting and fishing in Alaska, crawfish boils in Louisiana and the museums, monuments and cultural advantages of Washington D.C.
When the twins were toddlers in D.C., the family got to participate in the famous Easter Egg Roll at the White House, for them, hosted by President Bill Clinton.
"Connor had his diaper changed on the White House lawn," Pat says, chuckling at the memory.
Connor just shrugs. He doesn't remember the diaper change or any of that special day.
Connor is a top student at Barlow High. His class load has been larded with honors and college-level Advanced Placement classes throughout his high school career.
His classes were heavily focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
"I like math, science, chemistry. It clicks with me," he says.
But, his favorite disciplines are the "hands-on" technical and career classes. He took five metals classes and says "I became pretty good at welding."
He's currently taking mechanical drawing and AutoCAD, a computer-aided design software.
He considered welding, another trade or Oregon State University for engineering, but kept getting drawn back to the Coast Guard.
Connor plays sports. A lot of them. He's been on Barlow's football team, wrestling team, track and field team and runs cross country.
He's played in Barlow's music programs, two years on trumpet and two years on the euphonium, a sort of mini tuba. He's in Barlow's Symphonic Band, the top instrumental group at Barlow.
He's the vice president of the Barlow's chapter of the National Honor Society, and his twin brother Jacob is president.
Both brothers are heavily involved in their faith community, Boring's Good Shepherd Community Church. The brothers attend church services and a bible study class on Wednesday mornings, when Barlow High School has a late start.
The close-knit, outdoorsy family likes to camp, go out on their boat, fish and hunt.
"I'm extremely proud. I'm proud of all their accomplishments," says dad Pat, "I'm very confident that whatever they set out to accomplish, they'll do it with great vigor, and succeed."
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