Jonathan Ketchum has reached new heights as an Air Force ROTC cadet.

Ketchum, wing commander for detachment 027 based at Northern Arizona University, is graduating with a computer science degree next week and was recently singled out as the nation’s top graduating Air Force cadet in his discipline from among 2,000 graduating cadets at nearly 150 ROTC detachments across the United States.

To honor his achievements, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association awarded him the Maj. Gen. Robert E. Sadler Award, which recognizes the top ROTC graduate in each service for having distinguished academic achievement in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence related fields.

His award is a personally engraved ship’s bell clock.

“It’s really humbling,” Ketchum said of receiving the honor. “All I’ve done is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve worked hard and studied hard. I didn’t know the award existed until I received it, so it’s not like I had my sights set on it.”

Nonetheless Ketchum rose to the top—if not for his 3.95 GPA that he has maintained as a student in NAU’s rigorous Honors Program, then for the mountain of activities and leadership experience that complements his undergraduate work.

“NAU markets itself as offering a more personal college experience,” he said, adding that the smaller setting made it easier to have leadership positions in campus clubs and organizations.

It also afforded Ketchum an opportunity to really get to know his professors. “And they knew me,” he said. “They cared about me and my success—both academically and socially.”

His NAU experiences afforded Ketchum the opportunity to attend an elite cyber-security boot camp last summer in New York that serves as a training ground for future technology-security leaders. The Chronicle of Higher Education featured Ketchum in a story about the program, and the experience got him dreaming about one day making a career of defending the nation against computer hackers.

“Cadet Ketchum has excelled in everything he’s done here,” said Col. Robert Lundie, professor of aerospace studies and the commander responsible for the training and development of more than 70 Air Force ROTC cadets at NAU. “He’s a phenomenal leader, he leads by example. He’s probably one of the best cadets I’ve seen go through here.”

Clearly others agree. Just last month Ketchum was one of 35 NAU students receiving the university’s prestigious Gold Axe Award for exemplary leadership, academic excellence and service to the NAU community.

For the moment, Ketchum is relishing what the immediate future will hold. His first duty assignment is at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, where he will be a communication and information officer.

“My tenure here at NAU has been a culmination of my life achievements until now,” Ketchum said. “It has been a preparation for the rest of my life in the American work force. It has been a period of defining who I am, as much for myself as for the rest of the world.”