Veterans return to college to finish their bachelor’s degrees for many reasons, but share a singular mission: to better themselves.
At the military-friendly School of Continuing Education (SCE) at Providence College, four vets say the warm welcome has been just the beginning of support from staff and faculty. The SCE community is tuned in to veterans’ unique assets, like leadership, discipline and determination, along with their struggles.
While working full time as a mailman, Greg Charpentier, 34, of Cranston, is pursuing a social science degree with the aim, perhaps, of counseling veterans. Having served in the Navy as a jet mechanic for about five years, Charpentier qualified for military credit transfers that put him on the path toward his degree.
“In the very beginning, it was a struggle – you forget the little fundamentals like what format to put a paper in – but it’s like riding a bike, it comes right back,” Charpentier said.
He expects to graduate in the summer of 2018.
“Not to sound corny,” he says, “but I’ve learned a lot and have a different perspective than I had before.”
“Education changes your definition of what successful is,” he explains. “Being successful for me is not just a monetary thing; it’s being able to walk into a room and have confidence that you’ll be on the same level as everyone else, or maybe even on a higher level.”
Recognized by GI Jobs magazine for the past six years as a military friendly school, SCE helps students make the most of their GI bill benefits and their military expertise, which can translate into transferable credits, said Donna K. Barricelli, Veterans Administration Certifying Official in PC’s Office of Enrollment Services.
The School of Continuing Education accepts credit for military education and training programs awarded by the American Council on Education.
“We tell them exactly what they need to know to get started, apply for benefits, gather transcripts and make an appointment with an advisor,” Barricelli says. “I certify them for the courses they need to take, keep a close eye on them [and help] to stretch their benefits so they graduate with no out-of-pocket costs or debt.”
Six veterans are currently enrolled this fall in SCE, with historically as many as 20 in any given semester, Barricelli added.
Elisa Kirchheim, 34, of Barrington, was a specialist in the Army for three years, but had been thinking for a long time about going back to school. After hearing a radio ad for SCE and making a call, she was able to enroll that same day, with help from Assistant Dean Anne Nagle, Barricelli and others.
“They went above and beyond to make sure everything was squared away and I was ready to start school,” Kirchheim said. “With institutions, there’s [typically] a lot of bureaucracy but at SCE there was none of that. The initial startup was amazing.”
Kirchcheim’s first attempt at college studies at another institution was, by her own admission, a failure, but when she went into the Army, she learned the discipline she is now applying at SCE.
“I can do it,” she says now of her college effort.
The military experience is applicable in other ways, too.
“A lot of what we do in the leadership major revolves around teamwork and getting to a goal around a united mentality, and obviously, the military is huge on that,” she said.
While disabilities incurred on active duty can be debilitating, Racquel Ray, 47, of Barrington, graduated from SCE summa cum laude in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in theology, in spite of the injury she suffered while an Air Force senior airman, she said.
“Through the Veteran’s Administration I qualified for vocational rehabilitation,” she said. “They help you figure out an educational program that leads to work you’d physically be able to do.”
Now applying for a master’s degree in divinity at Yale Divinity School to fulfill her goal to become an ordained Episcopal priest, Ray said she never would have realized her full potential without the “gift” of the GI bill and SCE’s help in getting her back to college.
“And because I was given that gift, I did not want to squander it, so I gave it my best effort,” she said.
Sean Moore, 31, of Cranston, who had been a specialist in the Army, stopped working as a mailman so he could pursue a Liberal Studies degree full time, along with an accounting certificate.
Drawn to PC’s and SCE’s solid reputation, Moore said he was nevertheless nervous when he began his studies, but soon settled into a comfortable rhythm, largely because of the supportive faculty. He singled out psychology Professor Michael Lynch.
“There was very good communication with him and the entire class,” Moore said of his mentor. “He was able to pull the real world into the classroom.”
Moore, who wants to be a financial analyst, says he is on track to graduate in the spring, and has even qualified as a top candidate at a firm that wants to interview him as soon as he has that diploma.
“If not for SCE, I wouldn’t have the opportunity I have right now,” he said. “It’s actually given me the ability to pursue my dream.”
See also: A bachelor’s degree puts Racquel Ray ’16SCE one step closer to the Episcopal ministry.