UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Giving it a twirl

UND Nursing student and Navy vet Stephanie Paro adjusts to new surroundings in the classroom and on the parade field

Stephanie Paro, twirler for the Pride of the North Marching Band, transferred to UND after four years in the Navy that took her around the world. Now she's pursuing a nursing degree while advancing her talents as a majorette. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.
Stephanie Paro, twirler for the Pride of the North Marching Band, transferred to UND after four years in the Navy that took her around the world. Now she’s pursuing a nursing degree while advancing her talents as a majorette. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

If you’re ever at a UND football game, watching the Pride of the North Marching Band, you might just see Navy veteran Stephanie Paro front-and-center.

She’s the feature twirler – the baton-wielding rhythmic leader for the ensemble.

“It’s different up here,” the Chesapeake, Va.-to-Piney Woods, Texas, native said. “If I call myself a majorette, people think I’m a drum major. But in the South, a majorette is a twirler.”

The adjustment in terminology is one of many she’s made coming to North Dakota. She comes from a legacy of service, with her parents, grandfather and several uncles and cousins having been in the Navy.

It affected her choices after graduating high school. Since childhood, she wanted to be a nurse. She also wanted to serve. After attending a year of nursing school, Paro decided it was time to enlist.

“I intended to go into the military as a nurse, as an ‘HM’ (Navy shorthand for enlisted medical specialist), but they didn’t have any open positions,” she recalled.

She went in anyway, as an electrician. The plan was to re-rate, or change career paths, after two years and get the job she wanted. Paro trained as an interior communications electrician, responsible for maintaining equipment like phones, monitors and alarm systems – almost “anything imaginable inside of a ship,” she says.

World tour

After training at Naval Station Great Lakes, Paro was assigned to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier due for a world tour at the time.

Paro aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.
Paro aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.

“Most of the time, we stay on one coast, either East or West,” Paro said. “But I got lucky enough to go around the world, so that was really cool.”

She saw England, Dubai, Bahrain, Singapore and Hawaii before the ship arrived in San Diego, Calif., seven months after departing from Norfolk, Va.

Though it wasn’t her passion, being an electrician on the Theodore Roosevelt was a job she loved throughout her four years in the service, to the point where she didn’t attempt to re-rate as a nurse. Even so, Paro began to feel like time was slipping to complete her education and pursue her calling. She tried online nursing courses through the military but didn’t find it suitable.

North Dakota presented the opportunity to try something different.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in Texas,” she said, referring to where her parents settled, post-Navy. “I did my research before moving here, and I knew UND had a good nursing school.”

She didn’t know too much aside from that, which was a factor that introduced her to Veteran & Nontraditional Student Services in McCannel Hall. While looking for on-campus jobs, she saw the word “veteran” in a job description and applied.

Friendly face

“Stephanie tackled a lot of phone calls, emails, student questions – a lot of one-on-one conversations with students figuring out what types of benefits they had,” said Jessica Reule, the office’s coordinator, who hired Paro for the semester-long work-study position. Paro’s background as both a veteran and transfer student made her an excellent troubleshooter for students with complex paperwork questions.

Reule says students like Paro bring a sense of drive to the campus atmosphere and the classroom.

“Our veterans have very good grades,” she continued. “They’re great students that are here to work hard. They have good time management and they’re able to bring their life experiences into the classroom.”

They also have maturity, something Paro says her time in Navy helped.

“That experience helped me grow up a little,” she said. “It helped me learn how to focus on my goals and what I’d really like to get done. Being in the Navy gave me time to progress with myself; now I’m prioritized between school and professional life – knowing what’s more important for my time.”

Her time spent at UND’s Veteran & Nontraditional Student Services familiarized her with campus and calmed her nerves about moving to an unfamiliar place, saying she felt more relaxed when she found the office existed and there were people she could relate to on an everyday basis.

“I like coming here,” Paro said. “If I don’t have anything to do, I’m in the office.”

Stephanie Paro, Jessica Reule
Stephanie Paro and Jessica Reule chat in the Veteran & Nontraditional Student Services lounge, a spot that Paro discovered early into her time at UND. As a student employee, she connected with fellow veteran students and staff. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Shining on field

This semester has proved rather busy, though, as Paro gets further in the nursing program and frequently practices her twirling.

Her prowess with the baton started at age nine, and it was something she pursued throughout high school. After graduation, she taught lessons for younger twirlers, helping develop routines and getting them ready for performances. That stopped once she went into the Navy.

“It was something I missed,” Paro remarked. “My university choice was based on if they had that and a good program. I knew if they had it, I would try out and give it a shot.”

She was more or less a walk-on for the marching band. At the university level, she says it’s a way to let her personality shine through in front of an audience.

“Otherwise I’m a very quiet person and mind my business,” she said. “That’s my opportunity to let go and show people who I am.”

In class, Paro enjoys the hands-on research focus of UND’s nursing program. It has her looking forward to a career of helping others – earning her nursing license, gaining experience and earning Nurse Practitioner status before traveling abroad. Paro wants to go to South America—one of the few places she hasn’t been—to help the impoverished.

She encourages more veterans and nontraditional students to get involved on campus, however they can.

“Having twirling and having this office to come to has made my life a little easier, being new in North Dakota,” she said. “Going to school is something I love, yes, but branching out of my comfort zone and finding something I loved to do before college helped me open up and realize I can go farther than studying and doing the same thing every day.”