Austin Gray '16 recently gained admission to the prestigious and competitive Navy Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island. The senior from New York, NY, was one of only 12 candidates selected out of hundreds of applicants for his specific career track.
Following completion of 12 weeks of rigorous training and six months of specialty training, Gray will serve a five-year commitment with the U.S. Navy and join other esteemed Davidson alumni serving in the United States armed forces.
Gray forged a unique path to a Navy career, training and studying for the Navy's entrance exams and physical fitness tests independently, all while double majoring in economics and Arab Studies.
"In hindsight, with joining the Navy now, it looks like I could have set up my whole Davidson experience to tailor my resume, but that was definitely not the case," he explained. "It was after connecting with various Davidson alumni with careers in the Navy that I realized how I could use my interests to serve, travel and have a lot of responsibility while learning new skills."
With previous exposure to Latin and its family of Romance languages, Gray decided to challenge himself at Davidson with exposure to a new language and settled on Arabic.
To develop his Arabic skills, Gray spent two summers in Jordan–one as a participant in the Qasid immersive language program–as well as a semester studying in the UAE. Both experiences not only helped improve his ability to understand the language, but also provided a chance to better understand the diverse region on a cultural level.
"If I hadn't gone to Jordan and Dubai and realized how much I learn on the ground, sometimes pushing the limits of my comfort zone in an immersion environment, it would have just been two years of language and maybe a minor," he said. "Going abroad was a big catalyst for me. Whether throwing yourself into studying Arabic or traveling up to the Syrian border, you learn the most when you push yourself."
Despite taking five classes his senior spring in order to fulfill his double major requirements and writing an Arab studies thesis, Gray still makes time to broaden his knowledge of the discipline outside of the classroom, working with faculty adviser Associate Professor of Arab Studies Rebecca Joubin on her new Persian textbook. Additionally, he has conducted self-study in two languages, Farsi and Tajik.
Gray's contributions to the Arab Studies Department will extend well beyond his years as a student, as younger Davidson students exploring Arabic and Arab studies benefit from Gray's talents and passion.
"Austin is the kind of student who wants to give back generously to his peers, and he has been one of the department's most active Arabic language tutors at the Center for Teaching and Learning," said Joubin of her advisee. "In this capacity, he has served as a mentor to students who just began Arabic this year."
Looking ahead to the next few years in the Navy and whatever lies beyond, Gray attributes part of his success to Davidson's rigorous academics and an environment that fosters the pursuit of knowledge.
"I'm glad Davidson produces liberal arts ‘generalists' that are able to pursue whatever kind of career they want," he said. "One of Davidson's strengths is letting students figure out their own path."