Meet our our veteran USD students.
Chris served in the Navy for six years, from 2003 to 2009. He worked as a Parachute Rigger in his first two years at Miramar MCAS, and spent the remaining four years at North Island in Coronado working with search and rescue helicopter squadrons. He did two deployments with helicopter squadrons, in 2006 in the Western Pacific and in 2008 in the Persian Gulf.
When settling on an academic career, Chris was looking for a new direction, which led him to engineering.
“I've always been mechanically inclined, so when I made the decision to leave the Navy and go to college, it really wasn't difficult to decide what I wanted to do,” he explained.
Chris said his transition was helped most by an automatic acceptance program
through the California State University school system.
“I wrote an essay and submitted a package for it,” he recalled. “I was accepted and could attend any CSU campus I wanted. This was extremely helpful, being that I never took SATs or any of that. I had talked to a few admissions counselors and it would have been difficult to get accepted to a university without this program.”
Though he’s aware of the differences in being a vet at USD, he also feels his self-motivation is an advantage in pursuing his goals.
“Age is the most obvious difference between a vet student and a ‘normal’ student, but other than that I can say, for myself at least, that I'm going to school because I really want to,” he explained. “I made the choice to go rather than go because that's what is expected.”
Chris is a bike racer, and said his ideal job would be to work in bicycle engineering.
Antwane joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996 and served until 2009. He was stationed at two San Diego areas bases, Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar, CA; he also saw duty in Afghanistan. He had two jobs in the service, a musical avocation playing saxophone, flute and clarinet. He also worked in aviation supply as a warehouse manager.
While Antwane enjoyed being a musician he wanted his academic career to take him in a new direction.
“I really enjoyed being a musician,” he said. “However, as a music major, and a professional musician I realized that I would not being to survive and provide for myself in the ‘real’ world. I also realized that working in warehouses would not be a stable career either; besides, I found warehouse work to be dull.”
Antwane opted to pursue a career in engineering. “I searched around for other career choices that were more secure and stable and discovered the best choice would be engineering,” he explained. “The transition from Marine to student was a bit difficult, but the staff and professors here have made it an easy experience.”
Antwane said university life can be challenging.
“The biggest challenge was and still is trying to balance work, school, and personal life,” he said. “Unfortunately I have to work and being older I do have a life outside of the university. I found tutoring, and the student support services, the Center for Inclusion and Diversity, and the engineering department staff and faculty are all very helpful.”
What he enjoys about USD is seeing his objectives coming closer to being realized.
“I love the fact that I am getting closer to achieving my goals and obtaining a career,” he said. “I also love the staff and faculty here. As for the difference being a vet student, the only difference I can speak of beside age is being persistent, perseverance and discipline.”
Ultimately, Antwane said he would like to work in electrical engineering with SPAWAR.
Colleen served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004. She was a ground support equipment mechanic stationed on MCAS Miramar, and also deployed on the USS Constellation, receiving hands-on experience with F/A-18 aircraft.
She said her military experience influenced her decision to go into engineering. “I took my experience with diesel engines in the military and went directly into a job working on cogeneration plants powered by natural gas engines,” she said. “It was then that I saw the enormity of what could be accomplished through engineering. I knew then and there that I wanted to design those systems, not just work on them.”
To transition from Marine to student, she worked full time while accomplishing the General Education requirements for engineering. After acceptance to USD, she works part-time and uses the GI Bill to cover her schooling.
Her biggest challenges have been with the Veterans Administration, but she said Marvin Veneracion, the VA Liaison for USD, has been her “biggest help” in navigating the VA system.
Colleen says she enjoys learning how systems she’s worked on for years are actually designed and loves USD. “Everyone here cares about what's happening to you, the school has always been extremely understanding about the challenges of working with the VA, all of my professors know more than just my name--they know me,” she said.
Currently a Mechanical Engineering intern in the Propulsion Systems group at General Atomics--the manufacturer of the Predator drone-- Colleen says her military experience was crucial to getting the position. “Not many candidates have both diesel and aviation experience, which is what was needed for my particular position,” she said. “When I applied, my schooling at USD got my resume to the right person at GA, and my military experience got me the position. I consider myself very fortunate.”
Heidi was 19 in 1999 when she enlisted in the U.S. Navy. She served for six years, mostly overseas with a Mobile Security Squadron, guarding high value assets and providing force protection for specific agencies. She was also a weapons repair technician and small arms instructor. In 2006, she finished her Navy contract and enlisted in Army, serving as a veterinary technician, providing care for military working dogs and marine mammals. She is in the Army Reserves while she completes her degree at USD in mechanical engineering. She plans on continuing her military career as an engineer when she graduates.
She sees a definite link between her military experience and decision to pursue engineering. “I started out in the military working with weapons and mechanical systems of different types and really enjoyed it,” she explained. “I love building things, working with my hands and seeing the results of my hard efforts come to fruition in a project.”
She said she‘s still in the process of transition from soldier to student. “It's definitely not been easy, going back to school after 12 years,” she noted. “I refuse to give up and am trying to take it a day at a time. The main reason I chose engineering was because I missed working in the field. I also realized that with 12 years of service, it might be a good point to try and finish my education so that I might earn a commission within the military and retire as an officer.”
Though she readily admits she never loved attending school before, Heidi is making an exception for USD. “After a while of ‘living and learning,’ and pushing myself physically and emotionally to a better understanding, I realized I had reached a point where I was ready to push myself to a higher intellectual standard. USD has provided me with this opportunity and I feel blessed every day to have it.”
Thomas was in the U.S. Coast Guard from 2003-2009. He started as a Damage Controlman aboard the USCG Cutter Mellon in Seattle, performing shipboard repairs and emergency response training to ensure the crew was ready for fire, flooding, battle or chemical/biological warfare events. Later, he joined the Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team traveling around the doing counter-narcotics and alien interdiction operations. He also did two deployments to Iraq, establishing an Iraqi Naval force to protect oil terminals and ports of entry.
Thomas said there was a clear link between his military service work and his decision to go into engineering. “In order to become qualified, I had to draw out detailed blueprints of the systems, from fuel delivery to electrical lines,” he explained. “This made me more interested in how to build and design heavy machinery.”
He said the transition from soldier to student took “courage. It wasn’t easy to leave an established job and steady income to become a student. With the help of my fiancé, who also went to college as a veteran, I was able to better understand how to go about getting all of the paperwork and benefits approved. If it wasn’t for her help I would have never got started.”
Thomas admits it wasn’t easy to leave his “comfort zone,” but said he is amazed at how much support he found not only form his fiance, but from the veterans support offices at campuses he has attended.
He came to USD seeking smaller classes, better instructors, and a dual degree (BA/BS.) “I love the campus environment,” her said. “You feel a little different being a vet at this school, but that’s really only an age difference. I have still found many people in the same boat as me, and it’s good to have people to relate with.”
Ultimately, Thomas wants to work in research and development of turbines and large engines for government contractors.
Larry joined the Marine Corps in July of 2001 and worked as a combat videographer during his eight years, rising to the rank of sergeant. He served with 3rd battalion 7th marines during Ar Ramadi Iraq, and his main unit was 1st Marine Division Combat Camera out of Camp Pendleton. He filmed and edited videos for training, intelligence and evidence gathering, historical documentation, and information operations. “It was a great job, and because of its nature I got to see lots of different jobs in the military,” he said.
While his job didn’t influence his decision to go engineering, he’s using skills he picked up in the Marines.
“My chosen major is industrial and systems engineering,” he explained. “The kind of engineering that works to make things faster, efficient, and cheap. Those are the same values that the Marine Corps holds dear. We're known for adapting and overcoming.”
His transition to academic life was made easier by the Student Support Services Summer Bridge program (SSS Summer Bridge). “We took a ‘class’ every day of the week with Dr.'s Kramer and Olsen,” he recalled. “I had no idea what engineers do until I met them and they explained it. That's where I learned the difference between scientists and engineers.”
Larry said his biggest challenge was getting used to an academic environment. “In the military, rote memorization is a skill that isn't exercised often, and that had to be kicked up a few notches when I came back to school,” he explained.
USD’s size suits him sell, because it allows more interaction with other students and professors. “Being a vet among other students means there's a learning curve of life that I don't have to go through again,” he said, “so I have even more time to devote to learning than trying to figure out where I fit in this world.”
Nathan served in the Navy for six years, from 2002 to 2008. He spent most of his service aboard the USS Milius (an AEGIS class destroyer) moored out of Naval Station San Diego. “I did two deployments to the Persian Gulf where the main focus of my ship was Anti-Piracy and Anti-terrorism,” he said. “We also did humanitarian missions off the coast of Sumatra following the tsunamis as well as in places like Goa, India and East Timor where our focus was rebuilding schools.”
He was already thinking about engineering while in the Navy. “I was always good at math and I have a love for anything mechanical so going into a technical rate like sonar was a no-brainer,” he said. “The field involves acoustics, fluid mechanics and computers and I got to track and prosecute submarines. I became an engineering major because I love understanding how things work. I have been taking things apart and putting them back together since I was a kid and I will probably do it until as long as I am able. My final goal is to become a biomedical engineering and design prosthetics that will not just be a substitute for an amputee, but an improvement. Honestly, I just want to build the terminator.”
Although Nathan said it was a challenge to leave the comfort of the military routine, “I feel like I have been left in good hands. The vet rep at USD is great and is available at any time during the week. The financial aid is awesome. I even got a grant for a thousand dollars towards a laptop when I first enrolled.”
He “just loves USD. The engineering community is small, but all of the students and teachers are accepting and helpful,” he said. “I like the close-knit feel of the community; everyone knows everyone else and it’s great.”
Rennie served nine years in the Navy from 2002 to 2011. He was a nuclear mechanic on submarines and worked on the mechanical systems and components that were either directly, or supported the nuclear power plant. He was stationed on the USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) from 2003 to 2008 in Kings Bay, GA, and from 2008 to 2011, he worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in San Diego, specializing in hydraulic systems and components.
Rennie notes a strong relationship between his service and current studies in mechanical engineering. “It seems like a logical transition upward the engineering chain,” he said.
His transition to engineering studies was eased by his military training. “The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is where I began to find my true interest, math and science. I am grateful for that opportunity, and my overall time in service, as it has set me up for a promising future. As I learned more of what the actual engineers do, I began to really want to pursue that as a career.”
The biggest challenges he has faced are in transitioning away from military life. “The military is a completely different culture, one that at first was hard to get used to, but became a way of life,” he explained. “The VA has been very responsive with any request I've made to them involving my education. My family and loved one I have to credit most in getting me through the transition.”
At USD, he enjoys math and science classes, and the engineering lab, “where we build things, interact with other future engineers and develop skills to become better engineers.” In the future, Rennie wants to work on designing efficient transportation vehicles.
Though he’s aware of the age gap between veterans and students, he’s also found a group of students to call his own. “The Student Veterans Organization is a great outlet for veteran students to meet and build connections with,” he said.
Nikolai was born in 1988 in Minsk, Belarus and came to the United States in the summer of 2001 with his mother and sister. “Within just a few months of being in this country, I was shocked by the events of September 11,” he recalled. “I could not believe that my newfound home was already under distress of terrorist attacks. I wanted to repay this country for all that it has given me and I wanted to do so by serving in the military, so, just days after I turned 18, I signed the papers to ship out to the United States Marine Corps boot camp.”
He signed on with the Marines as an aviation mechanic from 2006 to 2011, stationed in Okinawa, Japan for two years, and at MCAS Miramar for his last 18 months.
Nikolai’s work in the Marines--troubleshooting diesel generators and other units which are crucial for performing maintenance on aircraft--showed him there is a lot of room for improvement in the hardware design in most of the equipment he worked on so he has decided to combine his working knowledge in the service with his engineering degree to build better hardware in the future.
The transition from Marine to engineering student wasn't easy, but Nikolai has found support from the USD staff and Dr. Kramer whom he said “put my mind at ease after she explained what steps I needed to take in order to begin my study at USD.”
His major challenges were in gathering information to get his education started, but Nikolai said he found that the veterans liaison, Marvin Veneracion, and Dr. Kramer provided most of the information he needed.
He enjoys studying at USD. “The campus itself is far more beautiful than I have ever expected and the professors are knowledgeable and available,” he said.
Nikolai said he hopes to work on renewable, more efficient energy sources in the future.
Philip served in Marines from 2003 to 2010. He was a crew chief of 28-ton Amphibious Assault vehicles, a fire team leader in an infantry company while deployed to Iraq, and he taught Marksmanship from entry level up to expert level instruction, attaining the rank of Sergeant.
“I found out quickly that I enjoyed working with my hands, and being able to problem solve, to troubleshoot and fix components on the vehicles I was working on,” he noted.
He said his military training influenced his decision to pursue engineering. “I was already working or a technology company in San Diego called SPAWAR, as an accountant,” he recalled. “I looked at the people I was working with who were 30 years into their careers, as well as what I was doing everyday. I contrasted that with the engineers who literally worked across the street--I realized what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
Among his challenges was changing his major from accounting to engineering and a subsequent loss of credits. He also required time to choose his emphasis i.e., electrical, mechanical, etc. and said he spent additional time navigating through communications with the VA and working through red tape to get classes and fees paid for.
Even so, “I love what I'm learning,” he said. “Even if I'm not crazy about a teacher, or the way a class is structured, I look forward to the day I can graduate and actually experience what it's like to be an engineer.”
Philip said there is a marked difference between military and student life. “Few students at this school can comprehend what six years in the Marines was like compared to their life,” he explained.
Though he has not had an internship in industry, Philip was a full-time employee at SPAWAR. Before he left, he transitioned to the engineering side of the house and “loved virtually every minute of it.”
Phil said he hopes to work for an engineering company to create and improve existing technologies in aerospace and energy.