Northwestern alumna navigates way into elite ranks of women in the Navy


Source: Jim Ziv

Joe Biden nominated Lisa Franchetti (Medill ’85) to head the Navy.

Lisa Franchetti came to Northwestern as a journalism major with plans to become a reporter in the Middle East. Her career has taken her to nearly 50 countries, not as a journalist, but as a rear admiral in the Navy.

Franchetti (Medill ’85) joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at NU almost by chance during Fall Quarter of her freshman year.

“I actually was walking past Tech during freshman orientation week, and I saw a bunch of midshipmen playing football and having a cookout,” she said. “I went over to say hello and they told me all about the ROTC program. … The next thing I knew I was hooked.”

Over the course of her career, Franchetti would go on to become one of few high-ranking women in the U.S. Armed Forces. She now works at the Pentagon as the chief of staff, J5, of the Joint Staff, coming up with recommendations on strategy plans and policy.

The Alumnae of Northwestern University recognized Franchetti’s achievements with the Alumnae Award at a ceremony held in October. About 150 people attended the event, including members of the organization and current ROTC midshipmen, said Michele Bresler, president of The Alumnae.

The University’s ROTC program prepares college students to become officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. As a member of the Naval ROTC, Franchetti took naval science classes in addition to her journalism courses and met with her unit weekly. She said the unit served as a place to develop leadership skills and foster camaraderie among fellow junior officers.

While balancing her academic and ROTC responsibilities, Franchetti still found time to join extracurriculars, such as the club crew team. Her position as a coxswain –– the person who steers and leads rowers ––  helped her further develop leadership and team-building skills, she said. Before long races, Franchetti said she would write notes of motivation meant to inspire her teammates.

Although she didn’t end up becoming a journalist, the rear admiral said Medill made her a curious person.

“Having a sense of curiosity, being able to ask questions and then ask a follow-up question and continue to dig deeper … really prepared me well to go into the Navy and lead people and represent our country all over the world,” Franchetti said.

Immediately following graduation, Franchetti began her career in the Navy as the training/special programs officer at the Naval Reserve Readiness Command Region 13. However, Franchetti did not want to work behind a desk, but command on a ship in the ocean. She entered a training program, and, at 23 years old, she was put in charge of leading a group of sailors in the engineering division of the U.S.S. Shenandoah.

After serving in various leadership roles on multiple ships, Franchetti was selected to become an admiral in 2013 — one of fewer than 40 female admirals in the U.S. Navy. For her first assignment, she was selected to become the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Korea.

“Moving and packing up and unpacking all of your stuff is not that joyful,” said Franchetti, who relocated with her husband and daughter to the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan base in Seoul. “But what is joyful is the opportunity to live in all these different places and meet all these different people.”

After her time in Korea, Franchetti served as a commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine in San Diego, Calif., becoming the second woman ever to be in charge of a carrier strike group, a fleet of ships whose main function is to provide support for an aircraft carrier.

Last month, she returned to her roots at NU and accepted the Alumnae Award. The annual award is given to an alumna who has made significant contributions to her field and achieved national prominence, said Mary Schuette, co-chair of The Alumnae Award.

“You can’t get anyone on the rise faster than she is,” Schuette said. “She is so outstanding. … she’s young, and she’s just still doing it all.”

Although Franchetti did not expect to end up in the military, she said it ended up being a great career path to follow. Speaking from personal experience, she urged students to keep an open mind when considering their futures.

“If you work hard and do your best, it will all work out in the end,” Franchetti said. “Figure out what success means to you because really only you can define that for you and then have that dream of what you want to do and figure out how to get yourself there.”

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Twitter: @madeleinemelody