As a 20-year-old student at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Simone Askew has already earned her spot in the history books.
Stepping into her new role this week as the first African-American woman to hold the position of First Captain of the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets, Askew will be responsible for overseeing the performance of approximately 4,400 students, according to the Associated Press.
"Simone truly exemplifies our values of Duty, Honor, Country," Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, commandant of cadets, said in a statement to CNBC Make It. "Her selection is a direct result of her hard work, dedication and commitment to the Corps over the last three years."
The AP reports that women make up just 20 percent of cadets, who are mostly commissioned as second lieutenants in the army after graduation. In 2014, the academy created a diversity office to help widen its student demographics and recruit more women and African-Americans for department heads and leaders.
The Virginia native's leadership position breaks both racial and gender barriers.
Pam Locke, who serves as Askew's mentor, was one of two African-American women to graduate from West Point's first class of women in 1980. She tells the AP that to date, the academy averages less than 20 African-American women graduating each year out of a class of 1,000 students.
"And yet, out of that 20 we got a first captain," she says of Askew's new appointment. "Isn't that amazing?"
For many, Askew's recent position comes as no surprise. According to The New York Times, the young leader served as her school's student body president in high school, was the captain of her volleyball team, started her school's Black Student Union and spent her high school summers volunteering at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
"That leadership is something I've seen throughout her life — wanting to be first, wanting to be the best, wanting to win, in sports, in academics, in every aspect of her life," her mother tells the AP. "And to serve others, as well."
Askew earned nominations for her West Point and Naval Academy applications from prominent figures such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and the superintendent of West Point. Her former volleyball coach, Christine Zanellato, tells The New York Times that all of the young leader's accomplishments are a testament to planning and hard work.
"To achieve what she's achieved, it takes thoughtful, long-term planning," Zanellato says. "It's not something that just happens. It's something she worked for."
Describing her barrier-breaking role as "humbling, but also exciting," Askew credits the influence of mentors such as Locke to her success and advises young people who desire to be leaders to remain a vessel for knowledge in their career.
"Throughout my cadet career I've just really focused on being poured into, seeking advice, seeking development, leadership mentors wherever I could," Askew tells the AP.
As a liaison between West Point's student body and the military administration, Askew recognizes that the hard work to fulfill the demands of her new role is just beginning.
"You're selected for this role, that's not the end of it," she tells The New York Times. "That's just the starting line, and it's more so, 'Hey, what do you do with this role? What are you able to accomplish alongside your teammates?' And I'm very, very fortunate to be around some awesome people."
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