Prior to my time in the US Air Force, I was not what anyone would consider an academic or a scholar. I had failed out of University of Maryland College Park with a dismal 0.25 GPA and had a 1.19 GPA at Montgomery College.
In the Air Force I was an F-15 Crew Chief with the 67th Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan followed by an assignment in Air Force Operational Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Throughout my TDYs, deployments, and other travels, I always felt I could do more in terms of understanding our relationships with the nations we interact with.
I left active duty on January 11, 2014, DD-214 in hand – and within a week I was in a classroom, back at Montgomery College in Maryland. Thanks to previous classes taken, credits from the Community College of the Air Force, and some hard work, I was able to earn my associates in General Studies in three semesters, pulling my cumulative GPA up to a 3.5. While I did better in the classroom thanks to hard work, I would also suggest that veterans check out the Warrior-Scholar project. It helped me improve my critical and analytical reading and writing ability and improved my study skills after my break from the classroom.
Then came the time to pick a four-year institution. Through the help and guidance of the counselors and veteran initiative (Combat2College) at Montgomery College, I applied to five schools. Their effort, combined with mine, helped earn a spot at my reach school, Columbia University in New York City. Drawing on my earlier travel experiences, I opted to study Political Science, focusing on International Relations, Comparative Politics, and International Security. I was fortunate to have access to a great program at Montgomery College that supported transfers to four-year institutions.
As an aside, Service to School is a great program that can guide you through the application process and assist with all parts such as the essay and different pieces needed to be competitive in applying to top universities. I was able to take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program due to Columbia University’s participation. Through those benefits, I was able to pay for school and basic living expenses for my time in New York City. I would also advise student veterans explore vocational rehab benefits for those who are eligible for that program. All in, I received an Ivy League education, which costs $60,000 per year, with no out of pocket expense.
While at Columbia, I got involved on campus as a student athlete playing for the Columbia Men’s Ice Hockey Team, and also as a student leader by becoming an Executive board member for US Military Veterans of Columbia University (Columbia Milvets). I leveraged these organizations in addition to the broader Columbia University network to search for opportunities. I did this not only for myself, but also to help my fellow student veterans gain an understanding for how the corporate recruitment process worked. I also jumped into FourBlock and American Corporate Partners (ACP), which raised my skills, effectiveness, and understanding to another level. FourBlock showed me how to prepare my resume, prepare for interviews, and network effectively while ACP paired me with a mentor who helped me navigate and understand corporate structures as well as provide advice on how to be successful in those industries from a C-suite perspective.
Through hard work and the skills these resources helped foster for me, I received an offer to start with the IBM Summit program before I graduated. I worked with the Federal Watson and Cloud Platform team for almost 2 years. In 2019 I joined BluVector and began my foray into the work of Cybersecurity for the Defense industry.
All in all, there are a multitude of resources out there (some I may not even know about), many of which are free, for veterans to take advantage of.
Veteran-focused programs with no cost
Here are seven tips for student veterans:
- Get involved around campus: Many traditionally aged students can benefit from your experience and view of the world. Share that knowledge.
- Learn from your peers: While most of these students will be younger than you, do not discount their experience and intelligence. There are many traditionally aged students who have accomplished a great deal (running businesses, inventing, etc.) before turning 18 and attending college. You would be surprised with what they can teach you.
- You are a student first: A student who just so happens to be a veteran. Being a veteran doesn’t define the entirety of yourself and doesn’t entitle you to anything past the benefits that you’ve earned.
- Network: Talk to everyone, learn about everyone’s goals, make connections. The students around you are the future leaders of the world, CEOs, Presidents, Scholars, Inventors, etc. You never know where opportunity will come from.
- Network and Stand out: An above average resume with a face attached to it will do better than a random “great” resume in a pile of other faceless names.
- Use the tools provided to you: Most colleges and universities have programs and services in place to help you succeed. Seek them out and use them. Essay writing services, tutoring services, mental health services, career services. They’re all there to help you succeed. And they’re FREE! (Well not free, you pay for them with your tuition, so use them.)
- Work hard: You are not entitled to anything. Do not get in the mindset that just because you are a veteran attending college (competitive or not) you are entitled to a job/career. All of it takes time and effort.
- Do your research: There are a lot of schools out there-some with amazing benefits. For example, Stanford covers all GI Bill benefits for your undergraduate degree without the use of actual GI Bill so you can use them for an advanced degree (its highly competitive, however)