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Blazing New Trails with Irene Zoppi

Blazing New Trails with Irene Zoppi

Brig. Gen. Irene Zoppi '04, U.S. Army Reserve deputy commanding general for the 200th Military Police Command, receives her star shoulder boards from her husband, Thomas Zoppi, and son, Andrew Zoppi, as she is promoted from the rank of colonel during a ceremony held on Fort Meade, Maryland, Aug. 28, 2017.

By Andrew Faught

When Irene M. (Rodríguez) Zoppi ‘04 was promoted to brigadier general in August 2017, it marked the first time a Puerto Rican woman held the rank of general in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Nobody can accuse her of underachieving: the married mother of three – nicknamed Ramba, after the fictional character Rambo – speaks five languages and holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, her PhD in education policy, planning and administration from the University of Maryland.

Since December 2022, she’s served in a civilian capacity in cybersecurity, among other roles, for the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. Zoppi’s various roles have unique challenges and rewards.

“The military reserve demands discipline, adaptability, and readiness for service,” she says. “In the civilian career, one can make a difference through innovation, leadership, and community impact. The resilience and dedication required to excel in these dual careers form a unique and impactful career path that offers both personal growth and the opportunity to serve one's country and community simultaneously.”

Irene Zoppi speaking behind a podium with an American flag behind her

Better known as Ramba, Brigadier General Irene Zoppi '04 was the first Puerto Rican woman promoted to the rank of general in the U.S. Army Reserve.

She was heavily influenced by her time at Maryland, where she adopted the College of Education mantra as her own: “Teaching, leading, and serving with passion, purpose and promise.”

Zoppi’s dreams of military service had early beginnings. Both of her parents served in the Navy and, visiting various installations as a child, she came to appreciate discipline and base camaraderie. She served in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, leaving active duty in 1995 to join the U.S. Army Reserve as a captain.

Through it all, she’s prioritized self-care to avoid burnout. “This involves setting boundaries, scheduling regular breaks, and engaging in activities that promote mental and physical wellbeing,” Zoppi says. “Effective time management, delegation, and open communication with colleagues and superiors can also contribute to a sustainable work-life balance.”

Meantime, she urges all job seekers, whatever their industry, to “network proactively” by attending industry-specific events, engaging with professional organizations, and using virtual platforms like LinkedIn. Seeking out mentors is also invaluable to ensuring professional growth, but “do not be afraid to be your own hero!”, she adds.

Zoppi is already considering her own plans for the future. She hopes to work with the United Nations and various NGOs in peacekeeping efforts around the globe. She is also further considering writing a curriculum for peace education programs in middle schools and high schools, an idea she got from Jing Lin, her professor of international education policy in the UMD College of Education.

“If I can use my experiences to help others and support them, then I want to do that,” Zoppi says.


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