Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, NC State senior Charles Blum and his five brothers had an important role model for pushing through adversity: their father.
A first-generation immigrant from Germany, Ron Blum taught his family what could be accomplished by doing your best.
“He came from another country, learned a new language, with no support system, and he was able to create a nuclear family and show his sons what hard work and dedication can really do for you,” Blum said. “That pushed us to do our best; and he also instilled a desire to help – that was a selflessness that we all took with us.”
With that kind of foundation from a young age, it’s no surprise Blum, a leader in NC State’s Air Force ROTC (AFROTC), was selected by Navy Federal Credit Union as one of 12 college students from across the country for the 2019 ROTC All-American Team, and then further distinguished within that group as the Air Force ROTC Student of the Year.
College students are selected for exemplifying the pillars of the ROTC program: leadership, military excellence, scholarship and service. The award carries a $6,500 scholarship for Blum, as well as a $5,000 donation to NC State’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 595 program.
Blum also was recognized on the field at the Military Bowl college football game, played Dec. 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
“It was very humbling to be able to receive an award like this on behalf of the university and our program,” Blum said. “Knowing how deserving all the other cadets are in the nation, I was really blessed to receive the award, and I am excited about what this national award means for our program and university.”
Continuing a Legacy, While Creating His Own Path
When he selected NC State for college, Blum chose to follow in the footsteps of two of his older brothers. At the same time, he wanted to establish his own identity at the university. One brother pursued medicine, while the other is a consultant.
Blum is pursuing a degree in industrial and systems engineering with minors in aerospace studies and business administration. Having loved problem-solving since he was young, he initially thought about a math degree before realizing engineering was the best way to combine his interest in math and love of coming up with solutions.
“I wanted to continue the legacy that my family has with the university,” he said. “NC State is the premier engineering school in North Carolina, and there are just such a vast array of opportunities.
“Then you become part of the university, and see how unique you can make your own education and really mold it to the person that you want to be.”
Blum received the Joshua T. Winstead Jr. Scholarship prior to enrolling, and said that financial support was crucial — not only from an economic standpoint as one of six brothers paying his way through college but also in knowing that other people were ready to invest in him, before he’d even set foot on campus.
After enrolling, Blum received the ISE Professor Clarence Smith Scholarship.
“Both were vital in ensuring that I could continue pursuing the education I wanted, and provided support and encouragement coming into college, knowing I had to pay for it myself,” he said.
He joined NC State’s Air Force ROTC assured in his desire to serve his country. His grandfather was in the Navy, and Blum said he felt a calling. He plans to commission and go on to pilot school following graduation in May.
“ROTC not only expects you to pursue academic and physical excellence but pushes you to be a leader,” Blum said. “Leadership, for me, is service focused. (ROTC) was an opportunity to take the leadership I’d learned from high school – I was a team sports captain and an Eagle Scout – and focus on promoting a service mindset and building community .”
In the fall 2019 semester, he served as NC State’s Air Force ROTC Recruiting Officer, just one way he displayed the leadership and service components necessary to be recognized by Navy Federal Credit Union as its student of the year. Blum helped build the recruitment program from the ground up, reaching out to high school students and, he said, helping people find their inner desire to serve. He led the Shadow Day Recruiting Event, NC State AFROTC’s largest recruiting event of the year.
Academically, Blum was the only student in the nation who was a double-select for professional development programs available within AFROTC in 2019: the Air Force Global Strike Command and the Air Force Technical Applications Center. The latter involved secret research at the center in Florida. He can’t talk much about that work, of course, but said it was “a great way to put the skills I’ve learned at the university into practice.”
Making an Impact on Campus and Beyond
Equally important to Blum in his education is a holistic world view, which prompted him to study abroad in the United Kingdom.
He received the Chancellor’s Study Abroad Scholarship – the largest university study abroad award offered – and the Ralph and Ree Edwards Study Abroad Scholarship, utilizing both to study engineering economic analysis among other topics. In addition, during his time overseas Blum visited with big industry leaders including BMW Mini, Coca-Cola European Partners and IBM, where he helped lead and orchestrate focus groups.
He returned to campus and became an ambassador for the university’s study abroad program.
“I dove 100 percent into helping provide the same opportunity for other students at NC State,” he said. “I know how much of a desire I had going in, and I wanted students to achieve that same goal. Everyone said I’d never regret studying abroad; I wanted to give back to that by being an ambassador.”
Blum is also part of the University Honors Program, something he sought out because of its focus on “learning for the sake of learning,” he said. “I always want to seek new skills and have challenging conversations with my peers.”
He has worked on campus for Chancellor Randy Woodson’s office since his sophomore year, assisting with a variety of writing tasks helping highlight NC State and its programs.
An athlete and sports fan himself, Blum is active with the Student Wolfpack Club as well as intramural sports on campus ranging from basketball and football to hungry, hungry hippos (really, it’s a thing).
Overall, Blum said it’s the people behind all the activities who have made the biggest difference in his life as a college student.
“It’s not just the programs that you become a part of, but the professors, the university administration, and the program leads who push you and show you what you can do,” he said. “The people here are willing to back you and willing to believe in you, and I think that has been one of the most impactful things about coming to State.”
After he graduates, Blum plans to pursue his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot while studying for a graduate degree. In the long run, he may aim even higher, as he talks of becoming an astronaut someday.
Whatever he does, Blum said he’ll employ his passions for analysis and service.
“I want to solve problems by serving the country as a pilot, before hopefully serving the country in other ways – either in industry or with the government,” he said.