I grew up in North Dakota and joined the Army shortly after graduating high school at the age of 17. I became a combat medic and served in Korea and later with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. I deployed to the Paktika and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan for one year from 2010 to 2011. Shortly after returning home from deployment I left the Army to attend school at the University of Pittsburgh where I studied political science and economics. I graduated in December 2014 and am currently serving out a fellowship with the Mission Continues and applying to graduate schools where I will be studying public policy.
What prompted you to return to school?
I decided to return to school because while deployed I felt a need to become more involved with becoming part of America’s growth. This led me to take up an interest in political science and economics related subjects. I knew that school the only way to really learn about these interests and find a career in a related field.
Why did you choose University of Pittsburgh?
I love Pittsburgh and the fact that the campus is located in the middle of some of the greatest parts of the city. The yellow ribbon program also appealed to me. Most importantly though was the dedicated veterans services office that was created. I had heard of the horror stories of veterans waiting for months to begin receiving their benefits, but the office appeared that it would not let that happen and it didn’t.
What military education benefits, such as the GI Bill, did you use?
Beyond the GI Bill I took advantage of the Pell Grant, which I would recommend to anyone regardless of whether they are using benefits or not. It’s an excellent way to supplement the housing allowance and takes very little time to set up.
What has your experience been like as a student?
It’s been good. The local Student Veterans of America chapter and Office of Veterans Services have been great advocates for veterans on campus. Some of the class sizes are small enough to be very easy to learn in. Some of the larger classes are a little bit more difficult to learn in because of the lecture style that comes along with it. I found most of the teachers very helpful and approachable.
What challenges did you have adjusting to campus culture after military life?
Sitting in class with 18-year-old kids was very strange. I had a hard time finding friends until I found out about the SVA. Getting into the school mindset was much more difficult than I thought it would be but after the first semester things started to get much easier.
Do you believe your military experience has made you a better student?
Absolutely. It doesn’t always show in the grades but I found that I was better able to apply the material I learned to the real world compared to most of the other students. Once you have relearned what school is like again, the time management and discipline will pay off. Some students appeared to be easily phased by one bad grade or criticism but any veteran should have plenty of experience with that.
What advice do you have for veterans returning to school?
Seek out some type of support system. Whether it’s just some other students who are older or other veterans you need to have others that understand how different it is for you being in school right now compared to the other students.
Pitt is great, but even if you choose another school learn about what resources are available and take advantage of them!