“Veterans don’t show up.”

“Veterans don’t take advantage of all of the resources available to them.”

“Veterans have low self-esteem.”

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“Veterans don’t aim high enough.”

When I hear stereotypes like this, I think back to when I was a student veteran. At the time, being accepted to a community college was a dream come true. I never felt like I was selling myself short or not setting my goals high enough. Instead, I felt proud to be in college at all.

I was taking at least 15 credit hours per semester, going to class by day and waitressing at night. I lived on my own in a fully furnished apartment and was making the dean’s list every semester. I had high self-esteem and a strong vision for my own success.

Where I grew up, graduating from high school was considered a big deal, and learning a trade and landing a steady job with benefits was more highly valued than college attendance. Being accepted into a four-year institution was unimaginable. The only thing I knew about college was what I saw on television, and most of the people I saw on television did not look like me so I could not relate to them. Growing up in my neighborhood, schools like Yale, Stanford, and Harvard weren’t even in my vocabulary – how could I strive for them when I didn’t even know they existed?

The saying, “Birds of a feather flock together” holds true. Joining the Navy and going to college changed my life forever. The two experiences exposed me to new ways of thinking and new standards of living. The more I was exposed to different pathways and diverse success stories, the more my own goals and ideas of success evolved. But I hadn’t learned quite enough by the time I left the military to pursue opportunities that were better matched to my natural skills and abilities.

Although I sometimes wonder if I was selling myself short by attending a community college, I always come back to the fact that I was maximizing my potential within the only environment I knew. I give myself credit for that.

Today, I use the memory of that knowledge gap to power my passion to help other veterans dream and achieve big. In my role as director of programs at Service to School, I work every day to help student veterans find educational equity. Policymakers tend to forget that the military is made up of diverse races, social classes, cultures, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds. Earning the GI Bill as we transition out of the military creates equal opportunity for all student veterans to attend college, but unfortunately we are often left with a socio-economic educational equity gap. Service to School works to fill that gap.

My favorite definition of equity is from the son of the director of equity at the College of San Mateo, Jerimiah Sims. Sims says, “My dad is a teacher at CSM. He teaches about equity. He sometimes says, “If I give two people each two apples, that is equality. But if one of those people has an apple orchard, the two apples are useless. If the other person has four kids to feed, he will still have two kids to feed after only receiving two apples. Equality is giving everyone the same amount. Equity is giving everyone what they need.”

At Service to School, we are disrupting a broken system. We have created an environment to provide student veterans exactly what they need to dream and achieve bigger. Service to School is a non-profit, 501(c) 3 that was founded by veterans for veterans. We provide mentorship, college application assistance, essay and resume review, camaraderie and empowerment. The goal is to focus on transitioning service members and community college student veterans who are exploring the idea of transferring to a four-year institution. We are successfully capturing student veterans during the exploration phase and exposing them to possibilities of earning a degree from prestigious institutions such as Yale, Princeton, MIT, Williams, Notre Dame, Amherst, Cornell, Smith, and more. We recognize the current system for transitioning student veterans isn’t working, and we don’t want to wait for the system to figure itself out.

In a time when nearly two out of every three veterans are first-generation college students – and are facing a broken system that is filled with educational equity gaps – we shouldn’t be surprised that 40 percent of GI Bill money is being spent on for-profit education, according to NVEST. When I went through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), I don’t remember anyone talking about the difference between regionally vs. nationally accredited schools or the difference between state, private and for-profit online education.

Service to School is working overtime to fill those very gaps of knowledge through the pay it forward model. Our applicants are paired with ambassadors with similar transition stories. These ambassadors are dedicated to paying it forward and being the veteran they needed when they were transitioning out of military service.

“Service to School enabled me to realize my potential, earn admission to my dream school and chase my aspirations. I would not be where I am without S2S, and through their investment in me, my life has been changed forever.” – Jackson Raffety Army, Undergraduate at Columbia University, Accepted 2016

As you can imagine, if I had an organization like Service to School by my side when I left the service, I would have set the bar higher. Service to School wants you to be better than I was. We want to educate you to make better decisions than I did. We want to expose you to diverse pathways of success so you can make informed decisions. We want to help you earn admission into top schools across the nation through application assistance, essay and resume review, mock interviews, camaraderie and, mentorship. These services are free and open to any veteran who is interested in transferring to a four-year institution. Our pledge to you is to treat you with dignity, respect and stand by your side through the entire process.

Ready to dream bigger? We’d love to hear from you. For more information, visit www.service2school.org

You can also follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Want to connect personally? Find me here on LinkedIn or email me directly at justine.evirs@service2school.org.

 

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