EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When Senior Airmen Shujie Yan immigrated to the United States from China in 2006, she was a freshman in high school. One year later, she had big dreams of life in the Air Force.
While Yan adjusted quickly to the life in Temecula, Calif., and challenged herself in the classroom, her grades weren't quite as competitive as she would have liked and her citizenship status prevented her from attending the United States Air Force Academy right out of high school. She opted instead to enlist in the Air Force as a medical technician.
Now, as a result of her hard work and dedication, Yan will finally have her chance to become an Air Force officer as she has accepted a rare appointment to the Academy and will begin taking classes this fall.
"I want to do more than what I'm able to do right now. Because of the opportunities offered at the Academy, the training and leadership development, it will build me up into a better person and help me achieve my goal of becoming a physician," said Yan.
"I want to give back and serve my country because of what my country has offered me. I've been honored and grateful to serve as an enlisted member, but this opportunity has changed my life. I have been given so many opportunities and freedom that I never imagined in China," she added.
The friendships, unique connections with patients and the desire to help others has motivated Yan to become a physician, just like her mentor at the 412th Medical Group, Maj. James Sarasua, M.D.
"I want to be a physician and I want to start with the family practice perspective because that is what I'm familiar with. All the doctors I've been working with are great. They mentor me, they teach me; especially Dr. Sarasua," said Yan. "I've been working with him since September 2011, which was only three months after I arrived at Edwards. He has inspired me to want to be a doctor too."
As a physician, she will have the opportunity to bond with patients and make a lasting contribution in their lives.
"Today, a lot of people's relationships are based on texting and materialistic values. I just feel that human-to-human bonding, real friendships are precious and I want to preserve that and I want to make a real difference in their lives," said Yan.
While medical school is several years away, a more immediate challenge will be adapting to life at the Academy. Fortunately for Yan, she's prepared for the challenge.
Acclimating to the highly regimented, demanding structure should be fairly routine for Yan, who left home and began attending boarding school in China at the age of 4.
The ability to adapt was a top concern for Maj. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Test Center commander, who wrote a letter recommending Yan for appointment.
"As a graduate of the Academy, I started discussing with her the discipline involved; the long hours, regimented schedule and attention to detail. The level of academics is extreme and some people just don't have that level of discipline. I wanted to make sure she is ready for this," said Bunch.
After meeting with her, Bunch knew the Academy was a good fit for Airman Yan.
"She has great leadership potential and in all aspects of her career, she's done an outstanding job. I think it is in the best interest of the Air Force to have her go through the academy to become an officer. I have no doubt she can do it. We need great officers. We need great leaders. She's got the potential to be both and I'm confident she'll succeed," said Bunch.
Yan has dreamed of attending the Academy since her sophomore year and will finally have the opportunity to see her dream through. In fact, her mother's appreciation of military life and culture is one of the reason's Yan wanted to pursue an education through the academy.
"My mom also played a big role in my career choice; she always wanted to be in the military but was too old to join. That's one of the main reasons I joined the military and why I'm pursuing my dream of attending the Academy - we call it a dream of two generations. She keeps telling me how much I remind her of herself when she was younger," said Yan.
Her mom is currently preparing to accompany her daughter and make the big move to Colorado.
"The education is very good, the development will well prepare her to be an officer, but it will be challenging. Given the performance of what she has done in high school and what she has done here, I have no doubt she is up to the challenge," said Bunch.
Her friends may have been accepted to Yale, Harvard and Stanford straight out of high school, while Yan chose life in the Air Force, but it's that very experience that promises to be a great benefit as she assumes her new role as a future Air Force leader.
"When she becomes an officer, she will be much better prepared to deal with enlisted matters than someone like myself who didn't have that experience. That's the benefit, that's the value if she does it right - and I'm sure she will," said Bunch.