How Student Veterans of America and the GI Bill Set Me Up for Success
Student Veterans of America | June 28, 2017
Written By: Ms. Fontaine Wilson, Navy Veteran and Former SVA Chapter Leader
I am a Post-9/11 veteran. I served six years in the United States Navy as a Nuclear Machinist Mate onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). I was able to travel the world while completing 2 deployments to the Persian Gulf. While traveling has always been my passion, the real reason I joined the Navy was the opportunity to earn a college education without the debt. It would not have been possible without the Post 9/11 GI Bill and a supportive community backing me along the way.
I remember my senior year of high school, I had just received my acceptance letter to my #1 college choice. I was beyond excited and couldn't wait to tell my parents. Then my mother let me know we couldn't afford it. It crushed me. I had worked so hard in school, always on the honor roll, AP classes, and one of the top students in my class, only to be told, we can't afford it. Now looking back, it's funny how something that looks like a disadvantage or setback at the time, can really be the turning point and foundation that defines who you are. I was determined to find a way on my own, so I joined the United States Navy.
Silly of me, I wanted a challenge, so I decided to join the Navy's nuclear program, known as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. After spending 45 hours per week in the classroom and an additional 20 study hours outside of the class, I almost gave up on my plan to go back to school.
But it was that discipline and work ethic that got me through some of my hardest academic moments of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Houston. I know after learning how to operate a nuclear reactor, it seems like school would have been a breeze, but it wasn't. I still felt like a lot of time had passed since I was in a traditional classroom. I couldn't relate to the 18 and 19 year olds in my classes. I missed the Navy family that I left. But, what helped was when I finally connected with other veterans on campus.
Through the Veterans Service Office and Student Veterans of America, I felt like I found my family again. Those who understood what it was like to serve in the military and were going through the transition just like I was. I became a work-study student at the Veterans Service Office and cofounder and then president of Student Veterans of America at the University of Houston. This was a key moment in my transition; developing and challenging me as a leader. My vision was to create a community focusing on camaraderie, academics, and professional development in order to create a successful transition from military service into an academic environment and on to a promising career. When our chapter won chapter of the year for our programs and student involvement, I knew that was confirmation that we succeeded in creating that community.
Today I am an Operational Excellence Engineer at MRC Global. It was my Navy Nuclear background that actually got me the job there. I'm thankful that at MRC Global they support and even encourage my involvement, outside of work, with the veteran community. Being able to earn my college education with the Post 9/11 GI Bill while having a community to lean on, serve and grow with has been key to my successful transition.