Veterans fight for college identity

Former soldiers work to transition to life at Baylor

By Megan Tschida

Desert sand, urban gray and foliage green were much more familiar colors than green and gold for those who served in the U.S. Army before transitioning to life on a college campus.

“It was definitely difficult,” said Plainview junior Daisy Hernandez, 25, fashion merchandising student, reflecting on her shift from army life to student life.

Hernandez served in the U.S. Army for four years prior to her enrollment at Baylor in fall 2009. Hernandez, who was a sergeant stationed in South Korea, Japan and Afghanistan.

Josh Ruck, 25, senior accounting student from Madison, Ohio, shared his thoughts on being a non-traditional student in a campus dominated by recent high school graduates.

“It was a little weird, you know, being older,” Ruck said.

Ruck, former Army sergeant and squad leader, served on active duty for five years and is now in the Texas National Guard.

“I don’t look old,” Ruck said, admitting his young looks have helped him blend in with the student community.

Some veterans, however, have more trouble than others blending into the community.

“I don’t feel like I connect to them,” Portsmouth, Ohio master’s candidate Emily Botello, 34, a nutrition science major said.

Botello, also a U.S. Army veteran, served for eight years in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a switchboard operator.

Botello said her age put her at a disadvantage for connecting to the younger crowd on campus.

Hernandez said finding someone on campus to share similar experiences is hard as a veteran.

“No one can relate to what you have been through,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said some of the traditional students can be unaware about life outside of Baylor.

“Sometimes it’s tiresome to hear the same thing over and over.” Hernandez said. “It’s not just about you and your struggles.”

Hernandez said her experience overseas enabled her to respect differences and work to embrace them.

“I feel that some students are going to have a rude awakening,” Hernandez said. “We say we are Christian, but we don’t fully embrace you or your religion or even culture sometimes. You might not have to like it. You have to respect it. You don’t have to agree because maybe one day your boss won’t agree with you.”

All three veterans said their attitude toward school is more ambitious after life in the Army.

Botello said her determination is reinforced through the GI Bill’s policy toward failed courses.

The bill requires students pay back tuition funds if unable to pass a course.

Hernandez said she views her decision to serve in the Army before college as a personal accomplishment and she appreciates the determination it gave her.

“I knew I always wanted to go to school. It was more of I was young, I’m in perfect health, and I’m in a country that lets me,” Hernandez said. Hernandez plans to continue her education by pursuing a doctorate in textiles and going into the research field.

Ruck said waiting to enter college enabled him to become more focused on what he wants to accomplish in life.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet in school,” Ruck said, reflecting back to before he entered the Army.

Ruck is now working to get his Certified Public Accountant license.

“I’m trying to get a job and work towards a career,” Ruck said. “I’m not really worried about next weekend’s party or whatnot.”