One of the highlights of Lt. Col. Shannon Stambersky’s career was when she saw cadets step outside of their comfort zones and embrace their host country’s culture during a three-week summer training program in Indonesia.
During her time at UCLA, Stambersky pioneered a summer cultural exchange program with 30 cadets in Surabaya, Indonesia, and will lead the program for the second time this summer.
Stambersky will be leaving her position as head of the UCLA Army ROTC program in August after 20 years of military service. Army ROTC is a military program that prepares college students to be lieutenants in the Army for four years upon graduation.
Stambersky, a logistics officer who served for 19 years and toured in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Military Science, will be working at the Pentagon in the Business Transformation Agency.
Maj. Steve Kwon, who is currently stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, will replace Stambersky in the fall.
Stambersky said she was honored that ROTC invited her to lead the Indonesia summer exchange program for a second time this summer. She said this was a prestigious invitation because not all officers are invited to return to lead the program again, but she will be returning to continue building a relationship with the Indonesian troops.
“That was a big honor to be asked to return, especially as a woman in their very male-dominated society,” Stambersky said.
Stambersky said the military can be unaccustomed to seeing women in charge of combat training, but her cadre’s welcoming attitude and experiences abroad deviates from this perception.
“Our cadets are very open-minded and when you talk about equality they actually believe it. It’s really kind of refreshing to see,” she said.
Stambersky said she was encouraged by the recent changes the Army has made to increase gender equality in the forces.
“In the time I’ve been here at UCLA, infantry and armor has been opened to women, women are able to go to ranger school now, all of these opportunities that I didn’t even think about are available to women in the Army now,” Stambersky said.
Stambersky said that she enjoyed working with both the Indonesian troops and her own cadre, and is particularly motivated by the opportunities she has to encourage character-building through training.
Capt. Tyrone Vargas said that Stambersky’s leadership helped UCLA Army ROTC become recognized as a top-10 Army ROTC program in the nation.
“Not to brag about it, but as a kudos to Stambersky, we were selected … because of not just the number of our cadets turning into lieutenants, but also because the quality of our cadets is remarkable,” Vargas said.
Stambersky said that she thinks her legacy in ROTC will be the army and life balance she created for her cadets.
“I’m getting more used to pushing (my cadets) a little bit more to not settle, don’t repeat old habits, always make things better,” Stambersky said. “Before, it used to be a real challenge for our cadets to keep up as students and cadets at the same time. We are more flexible and more efficient with our time, and always try to do things that achieved multiplicity of effects.”
Vargas said he thinks this analytical approach will translate well to Stambersky’s new position at the Pentagon.
“It’s a pretty good place to end on a high note,” he said. “Even though (UCLA) could be considered a high note, she decided to end it on an even higher note.”
Sgt. 1st Class August Maggio said that one of his favorite experiences with Stambersky was guest lecturing with her for a class titled on the sociology of violence.
“Talking to a class of college students is not something that we get to do often, and … a lot of students have preconceived notions of the military and violence, so that was really meaningful that we got to share our perspective,” Maggio said.
Stambersky said that the reason she stayed in the Army for so long after completing her own ROTC obligation was because of the experiences she enjoyed as a soldier.
“You get to meet so many different types of people and just to see how people interact and witness the human experience. I definitely enjoyed it,” she said. “The best part of being a soldier is hanging out with other soldiers.”
Vargas said what he admired most about Stambersky after working with her in the last year was how she embodied the values she teaches her cadets.
“She always gets feedback from the students to try and become better,” he said. “And she was part of the crew on the 405 when that guy got trapped. That goes to show you, she’s not only a professor, she’s not only a leader – she’s a hero.”