From warships to War Eagle: Harness takes on student life, preparing for a successful future

Published: September 07, 2021
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Tanner Harness’ path to becoming a student at Auburn University was nontraditional, to say the least.

Not many Auburn students can say they worked as an instructor for a nuclear reactor plant before launching their college careers, but Harness has always blazed his own path in life. Following several years of ongoing service in the U.S. Navy, Harness is now a senior at Auburn studying civil engineering thanks to the Naval Commissioning Program, as well as participating in Naval ROTC activities and dedicating time to completing the STA-21 Commissioning Program, which he started in 2019. The STA-21 Commissioning program is designed to transition enlisted sailors from the fleet to Naval officers. Those in the program are given 36 months to receive their degree and commit to serving at least five years as a commissioned officer upon graduation.

“My time in the Navy has given me a new outlook on being a student,” Harness said. “While it is a pressure-filled environment of deadlines, finals and group projects, nothing can quite compare to the stress of being on a naval warship. I am very fortunate to be in a position in the STA-21 Commissioning Program where my job is to be a student.”

The Knoxville, Tennessee, native first toured Auburn as a junior in high school and knew then that he wanted to be a part of the Auburn Family one day. What he didn’t know was that his arrival on the Plains would happen a decade later. Harness’ desire to live an impactful life and be a part of something bigger than himself is what inspired him to first join the Navy.

He spent 10 years serving, having been stationed in Ballston Spa, New York, as a staff instructor at the S8G-reactor plant, training future nuclear operators, as well as serving as a reactor operator on the ships USS Tennessee and USS Albany and the submarine PCU Delaware. He remains active duty today.

Harness is dedicated to making his future a success, and that includes focusing on himself and his family. Harness said he values his time on the Plains and believes it is preparing him well for the next step in his journey forward.

“The Auburn Family does a great job of making you feel noticed,” Harness said. “The genuine care displayed by a lot of the students and faculty encourages and motivates me to be the best person and young professional that I can be. My engineering courses are teaching me to solve problems efficiently and approach problems with a critical thought process, which will be a great help in my future, personally and professionally.”

He often spends time studying in the Veterans Resource Center, or VRC, which provides a welcoming environment for veterans and dependents to relax and build camaraderie with one another. It serves as many as 1,300 student veterans and supports their transition to student life by assisting with housing, employment, mental and physical health challenges, as well as providing tutors, books and a clothing locker. Auburn University has been recognized nationally for its support of military students, earning the 2021-2022 Military Friendly School designation.

“It is nice to be able to go to the VRC and be around like-minded people and have a place to fit in without having to try,” Harness said. “It has been there for me since day one. Seeing how all of the other veterans at the VRC are setting themselves up for success as they transition out of the service has been a great help to me.”

The director of the VRC, Paul “Puck” Esposito, is one of Harness’ valued mentors.

“Tanner Harness has been a force to be reckoned with since his arrival on campus and first appearance in the Veterans Resource Center,” Esposito said. “As an active-duty service member balancing school, family and his military obligation, he fires on all cylinders every day. He was selected to one of the most challenging and highly competitive career paths offered by the U.S. Navy as a surface nuclear warfare officer. His pleasant disposition and incredible work ethic make it easy to tell that this is a young man with an incredible future.”

Harness is looking forward to graduating in May 2022 and continuing his military service as a nuclear surface warfare officer.

“I am excited to tackle this next part of my life,” Harness said. “With great Naval officer mentors like Puck around and my time at Auburn, I’m sure I will be ready for it.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.