Local students attend FBI leadership program

Local students attend FBI leadership program

Image Credit: Ellen Pill

Every summer the nonprofit FBI National Academy Associates hosts a week of education, fitness training and social interactions for a select group of 62 high school students from the U.S. and four other countries. Only one student is selected at a time from a state.

It would be unusual to have two students selected from the same city, yet Wooster has had three consecutive attendees — all three are children of members of the Wooster Police Department.

In 2016 Alexis Fisher, daughter of Wooster Police Chief Matthew Fisher, attended the program. Connor Rotolo was selected in 2021, followed by his sister Gianna (Gigi) Rotolo this year. Their father is Scott Rotolo, Wooster’s assistant police chief. Both of the fathers are academy alumni.

The selection process involves submitting an essay and a personal interview. Applicants must be between 14 and 16 years old at the time the program begins, with academic and civic accomplishments.

“The in-person part was a little intimidating — great preparation for job interviews,” Alexis Fisher said.

The questions weren’t easy. “They asked some deep questions that took serious thought,” Connor Rotolo said.

One of the perks of being a graduate of the academy is the ability to attend the annual FBINAA conference. All three attendees grew up attending with their fathers and saw the personal connections they had forged with fellow alumni over the years.

“I know my dad had a really good experience when he went,” Connor Rotolo said. “The people who were in his session are like family now.”

“In a small town, you only get exposed to so much,” Alexis Fisher said. “The academy was an opportunity to not only grow my abilities. I met people from all over.”

“We all have a different story,” Gigi Rotolo said. “It was cool to learn about the others in my session.”

According to the website, “Extensive coursework and classroom instruction focus on issues faced by the youth of today and provide tools that can enhance their individual core talents.”

The students participate in field trips and follow a physical training program. The program is free.

The experience was memorable in different ways for each attendee. Having recently healed from knee surgery, Gigi Rotolo realized she was ready to tackle the physical challenges with a new strength. “And being with the same people and having to work together was a great opportunity to learn to adapt,” she said.

“I really learned a lot about leadership,” Connor Rotolo said.

The oldest of the three, Fisher is in graduate school and already applying skills she learned at the academy. Having demonstrated so many skills in working with groups during her undergraduate tenure with a sorority, she has recently been asked to present at an upcoming leadership summit.

The program takes place at Quantico, which allows students to have their classes in many of the same classrooms and use the same facilities where FBI agents train. Additionally, each group takes field trips to Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas. Stops might include anything from a battlefield to the Holocaust Museum.

Discipline is definitely the order of the day during the week-long program. “They kept us busy nonstop from 5:30 in the morning until 8 p.m.,” Connor Rotolo said.

There also is a high “cool” factor to meeting the agents and learning some of the same things they learn. “We got to go to Hogan’s Alley (the FBI’s tactical training facility), and they taught us how to clear a room,” Connor Rotolo said. “I felt like James Bond.”

Gigi Rotolo said one of the hardest things was waking up. Attendees have a roommate chosen for them, and hers was a high-energy morning person. “That was a challenge,” she said, “as well as the physical training. But the thing is that everyone helps each other, and they never leave anyone behind.”

“For me the biggest challenge was fear of the unknown,” Fisher said. “My dad dropped me off, and I didn’t know anyone. I was able to grow and adapt. It sounds cliché, but I came back a whole new person.”

Every year one student is chosen from each session who exemplifies leadership. Connor Rotolo was honored to be the recipient his year.

For anyone considering the academy, the three would all encourage them to apply. “You just have to know it’s really what you want,” Connor Rotolo said. “You will make life-long connections there.”