Patty Dooley ’23 is not your typical undergraduate student. Though graduating with her bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this month, Dooley has already earned several degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame; a master’s degree in organic chemistry and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Vanderbilt University; and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
The quantity and diversity of Dooley’s degrees reflects her commitment to lifelong learning and excellence — qualities that were instilled in her throughout her 30-year career in the U.S. Army.
Growing up, Dooley’s father served as an active-duty officer in the Army. When it came time to attend college, Dooley followed in her father’s footsteps and pursued a four-year Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. Upon completion of the program in 1978, she was commissioned into the Signal Corps.
During her career, Dooley held platoon leadership, company command, and battalion and brigade staff positions in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, and 1st Armored Division. She was also selected to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry to teach at the United States Military Academy at West Point and later became an Academy Professor there.
When Dooley had the chance to continue her education through the Veteran’s Administration Post-9/11 GI Bill, she could not pass up the opportunity. “In the Army, we are trained to lead by example and at West Point, part of the mission statement is to inspire a commitment to lifelong learning,” she said. “What better way to show how to be a lifelong learner than to set the example?”
Dooley decided to pursue an engineering degree at RPI. “My colleagues at West Point who taught engineering were exceptional role models with a skill set that truly exemplified the engineering thought process,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could meet that standard of excellence.”
Dooley has done just that and more. She made the Dean’s Honor List seven times — an honor that recognizes undergraduate students who complete 12 or more credit hours during a given semester with a 3.5 grade point average or better. And despite earning her degree during a global pandemic and several winters in the Northeast, she was never absent from class!
“I learned new things, and I learned more about myself and how much pressure I can endure,” she said. “My one and only focus was academics…I owed my best effort to the VA.”
As someone who strives for excellence and values lifelong learning, Dooley’s journey will not end here. “I always have the ‘next thing to do’ on my ‘to do’ list,” she said. “I don’t intend to go home and disengage — I will find work that engages me.”