In 2016, Col. Oliver Norrell III, L’76, completed a doctorate in public service leadership. For the retired U.S. Army colonel, it's both a meaningful and logical accomplishment, given the fact that his 37-year career was driven by “a sense of civic duty."

He sustains that commitment today as director of Army instruction for Richmond Public Schools’ Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

“As a child, there were two things I wanted to do,” said Norrell. “I wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to join the Army.”

After checking off his goals in that order, Norrell — one of the first African Americans to graduate from the law school — explored a wide swath of career options. A variety of professional legal experiences — private practice, multiple stints with local commonwealth’s attorney’s offices, an in-house corporate counsel position, the Richmond public defender’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office, and the Virginia attorney general’s office — “helped make me a well-rounded lawyer,” Norrell said.

But the Army still called to him. Prevented from enlisting due to a medical condition, Norrell received a direct commission in the Army National Guard in 1983 as a judge advocate general before becoming a commissioned logistics officer. After completing a nine-month program in the U.S. Army War College, Norrell was assigned to active duty, working on projects like logistics readiness and human resources for the National Guard.

“I was afforded the opportunity to travel and meet different people,” he said. “I got to be a leader again.”

His current position provides him with another opportunity to practice leadership while giving back.

“The impact it has on the kids, it’s really something,” said Norrell. "It helps them get a better sense of civic responsibility.”