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SVA Voices • Kierston Whaley:
Student Veterans of America prides itself on celebrating the diversity of the many student veterans that make up our chapters across the country. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we celebrate their stories of success. Kierston Whaley is an Active Duty Army Veteran, having served in Afghanistan, who is currently working towards her Master’s in Accounting at Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University.
Kierston says the biggest challenge of being a student veteran is the age difference between veterans and their peers. While Kierston admits to feeling intimidated by the younger students upon entering college, she quickly realized her life experiences turned her into an unofficial guide in the classroom. “Professors look to me for the answers that other students wouldn't otherwise know how to answer. I'm not talking about the answers to the subject matter, those too, but questions about life in general. The students do as well. They typically think I know the answers and are fairly shocked when I'm just as lost as they are. But we work through it together.”
Kierston credits the SVA Chapter in combination with department of career services for bringing the resources and opportunities that have helped her succeed. One of these opportunities led to an internship with the accounting firm KPMG, which eventually led to a starting position as an Audit Associate with KPMG in Albany, N.Y. starting August 2018. “My first SVO (Student Veteran Organization) activity was to attend a ‘boots to briefcase’ career fair. It was there I was able to meet one on one with three of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms: EY, PWC, and KPMG. I was able to get a more personal experience with them and explain to them what I was looking for. They were all very interested in my story and what I could bring to their firms.”
Kierston and Bella
Kierston’s journey through higher education has been positively impacted due to her companion, Bella. Having raised the great dane from a pup to now four years young and weighing in at 125lbs, their relationship has blossomed. Kierston recounts the day Bella stepped up to her current role, after having suffered a series of panic attacks. “I thought I was having a heart attack...but sitting on the couch Bella got up from her bed and ran to my side. She took her nose and flipped my hand to pet her relentlessly and when I finally gave in, the pain went away. It was that moment that I realized all she had been doing for me and that I wanted, no, needed her to be with me.” Soon after, she took Bella to get specially trained so as to remain her constant companion. “This way I was able to fly with her and bring her with me to hotels and such. The first trip I took with her was to Orlando, Fla. with KPMG. I was at ease in a situation that would normally overwhelm me. She now accompanies me everywhere.”
Syracuse University, Natcon2018
Kierston challenges her fellow student veterans to embrace their SVA Chapter and the opportunities to network. “Go on the trips to NYC, meet with the employers on campus, if there is a veteran opportunity to network with employers TAKE IT. It's never too soon to start. Aside from the employment aspect, there's the social aspect. It’s great to feel needed in the classroom but then there is still an age difference, sometimes rather significant, and it's hard to relate to someone that doesn't have the same life experiences that you do.”
Kierston plans to finish her CPA requirements and upon certification accepting the offer to work at KPMG in their Albany, N.Y. office. To her fellow student veterans Kierston says it’s never too early to start looking for a job, be open to new experiences, and listen to the fellow classmates as much they listen to you. “Those younger students can teach us older ones just as much as we can teach them. Use them, network with them, study with them and learn from them.”
Kierston can also dazzle a crowd with her singing abilities. “I sing a lot, not just in the shower or along with the radio, but that too. My first real ‘performance’ was when I was in Afghanistan, a few of us got together with the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Center) on post and put on a little concert and then another larger one. I also have been singing in a choir that gets together at Christmas to put on a concert. I've been signing with them since 2009 and I recently sang the National Anthem and the SU alma mater for my undergrad graduation ceremony.”
SVA Voices is an ongoing campaign celebrating student veteran success. Become a part of the campaign and share your story today!