and tags, as close as possible to the opening tag. Creation Date: 03/09/2018 -->

Applying Lessons Learned from my Focus Forward Fellowship

By Sarah Holm, Army veteran and Washington State University Vancouver student


As a women veteran, I have found it is rare to meet other women veterans outside of those I’ve served with. When I applied for the Military Family Research Institute’s Focus Forward Fellowship, I was at the point in my education where I wanted to explore other opportunities for educational and personal growth. I had heard about the Fellowship the year prior, but the dates did not align with the program I was about to begin. When I saw the email the following year, I was excited to get the opportunity to apply. I also applied because I felt this Fellowship would help me to intertwine the skills I learned in the military with the skills I have learned through my educational program. When I was accepted, I was delighted to explore higher learning with other people who have served in the military.


I remember getting on the plane to fly home from the Fellowship meeting, trying to process all of the information that we were given. My mind was racing, trying to remember every incredible detail of the experience. As I started to highlight the important takeaways to share with others when I got back, I noted a few things:


  • The Fellowship pushed me out of my comfort zone. It helped me to focus my educational, personal, and career goals.
  • The Fellowship helped me to see that I have a lot to offer the world and others around me. I enjoyed learning that I have a different way of communicating in a career setting then I thought I did.
  • I found the importance of using my strongest personality traits for good. I learned to let go and not focus on the characteristics I don’t have. 
  • I realized what I want out of life. Sometimes this takes 60 seconds of courage, then reaching for your dreams.
  • The last takeaway from the Fellowship I was left thinking about is the fact that confidence shows. When you show you are confident, people will see it. Sometimes confidence will carry you through.


As soon as I got back on campus, I asked for a meeting with my Veterans’ Student Services Coordinator, Krista Griffin. I thought it was essential to explain how the Fellowship changed who I wanted to be on campus. She helped me find ways to get involved with veterans on my campus. She told me that our Veterans Club would be having a meeting to vote for officers at the first club meeting of the year. So, I took my 60 seconds of courage and ran for an officer position with my school’s Veteran Club.


After receiving the job as an officer, I have had the opportunity to speak with other student veterans for the annual Veterans Day brunch. This also took a lot of courage but was a great success. I was nominated to be a part of Washington State University Vancouver chancellor’s student advisory board.  Most recently, I started a new work-study position at my university, working with all veterans on campus. This opportunity has taught me the importance of the transition from the military to school. Because of this new position, I will be able to attend my first SVA regional conference.


Another thing I immediately began to work on when I returned to campus was getting started on my personal advisory board. A personal advisory board is a group of people who you contact when making life decisions or when needing help with any situation that may arise.  I was shocked when every person I dared to ask was willing to be a part of my advisory board. The three people on my personal advisory board have helped push me to be more successful academically, professionally and personally. I have felt my potential develop and I have felt my career and school experience grow in ways I could never have imagined.


There top three reasons you should apply for the Focus Forward Fellowship are:


  1. You will gain personal and professional experience you would not get on your campus otherwise.
  2. You will be introduced to a group of women who understand where you have been and where you want to go professionally and educationally.
  3. You will learn to expand your communication skills with employers and professionals. Additionally, you will get the opportunity to practice your interviewing skills. Every person you meet during the Fellowship will honestly be there to help you to reach the level of success you dare to dream.


Because of the Focus Forward Fellowship, I have left my comfort zone and I’m rising to the top of my educational goals. At the same time, I am gaining new and exciting career opportunities. I have developed new friendships that have helped me to be a better person. I have found myself continually using courage to step up and out of what was comfortable. I have achieved more than my heart could have dreamt. 


Applications are now open for Military Family Research Institute’s Focus Forward Fellowship 2018 cohort. Learn more and apply at


Sarah Holm attends Washington State University Vancouver, where she studies elementary education. An Army veteran, she served in the Washington Army National Guard, and spent one tour in Iraq. Her career/educational goals are to one day be a teacher of special education and help make critical systematic changes in our schools.   




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