Advanced mathematical concepts tend to boggle the minds of students, or most of us, for that matter.
Then there’s Erin Muse.
“Math was my favorite subject,” she said about her coursework at Mt. Lebanon High School. “Before quarantine hit, I had 105% in my calculus class.”
After Pennsylvania schools closed in mid-March because of COVID-19, the ensuing virtual instruction resulted in students being graded simply as pass or fail.
“That was truthfully the most disappointing thing about online school,” Erin said. “I didn’t get to see my percentages.”
She did have the opportunity to see a couple of percentages that really mattered, on her way to having the distinction of the U.S. Navy accepting her for its Nuclear Power School. The 2020 Mt. Lebanon graduate will train for nuclear power plant operation aboard surface ships and submarines in a program that has an understandably rigid entry process.
Her father, Stephen, and a grandfather served in the Navy, and Erin took that into consideration when looking toward an economic path for higher education.
“The recruiters came to my school and I decided to talk to one, and I asked originally about a nursing program,” she said. “They gave me a bunch of information on all the different types of jobs that I could get, including nuclear. But in my mind, I wasn’t smart enough to get into nuclear. So I completely put that out of my head.”
What she started putting into her head were three months’ worth of study materials for the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAP), which she took at Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’s about two-and-a-half hours long, and when you get out, they give you a piece of paper that’s in an envelope. That’s your score,” she said. “You can open it whenever you’d like.”
She waited until she and the fellow test taker with whom she was rooming could open theirs together.
“I ended up getting a 92,” Erin said, “which is pretty high up there.”
It is so high, in fact, that she cleared the first hurdle on her way to Nuclear Power School.
“But in order to get into the nuclear program, you have to take a second test, and basically all they tell you is that it’s on math and science,” she said
Confronted with trying to prepare for such a wide variety of potential subjects, she embarked on what in effect was her own study guide.
“I went to all of my math and science teachers. I used YouTube and the Internet, and I went to the library. I basically studied all math and science that I could get my hands on,” she recalled.
Then came time for the Navy Advanced Programs Test (NAPT).
“My room was about the size of a large closet,” Erin said. “You’re all by yourself in this room. There’s no clock, but it’s a timed test for two hours. It’s all written on paper. It was very challenging.
“I finished the test with just enough time, and they told me that finishing the test is quite an accomplishment to begin with, because the test is extremely hard to finish in two hours,” she continued. “Because it was a handwritten test, they had to grade it. So I had to wait 15 minutes, very nervously.”
Finally, she was told her score was 88, qualifying her for the Navy’s Nuclear Field Program. And so on Aug. 10, she starts two-and-a-half months of basic training in Great Lakes, Ill.
“It’s normally two months, but because of corona, there’s a two-week quarantine beforehand,” she said. “I’ve been working with my personal trainer since April. We managed to work out at a park during quarantine. So I’ve gotten into pretty good shape.”
Following boot camp, she reports to Goose Creek, S.C., to start with Nuclear Field “A” School for the basics and then advance to Nuclear Power School for “a comprehensive understanding of a pressurized-water Naval nuclear power plant,” according to Navy.
“If I make it in the top 10% of my class, then I go on to officer training,” Erin said. “But if I don’t, then I become a nuclear field enlisted man. I’m given a station and a ship, and then I’m deployed wherever they send me.”
Her preference, of course, is to become an officer.
“I’m quite a determined person,” she said, “and this is my newfound goal.”