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Student soldiers transition from battlefield to classroom

Submitted by Pauline Mothu on January 29, 2014 – 12:17 pm2 Comments

Making any change in life can be challenging. This is particularly true for soldiers who decide to go back to school.  Moving from the military lifestyle to a student setting can bring difficulties in everything from social interactions to classroom environment adaptation.

Wendy Lyons and Nicole Ackerman are both students at UALR who share something in common: they were, at one time in their lives, in the military.

They both joined the military in 1995 and served for several years before deciding to attend college. Lyons said she decided to go back to school “because my boss hounded me to have a college degree in order to be his successor to the company, should anything happen to him or upon retirement.”

Ackerman, on the other hand, said she decided to earn a college degree for a different reason. “I had put  my education on hold for my country, and I felt it was my turn. I also wanted [my daughter] to realize that education is an asset. Taking grades seriously, as well as the habits we learn as we grow up, will affect our future.”

Most of the students do not share what Lyons and Ackerman have experienced; it is thus sometimes difficult to find common grounds. “War is not like in the movies or video games,” Ackerman says. “It can shake you to the core and disrupt the fabric of who you were before, changing you forever.”

Moreover, serving in the military taught both these women much. While Ackerman learned that  “life is far too short to be angry and self-centered or any of the petty things that people can be”, the military taught Lyons respect and discipline. It also taught her that “everything we do can hurt or benefit those around us.”

Time management can also be a problem when veterans transit from the military environment to the school one. Days are more structured in the military. Lyons said, “During basic training, they yelled at you and made you reach out and talk to your family, even if you did not want to. School is a different environment. Students have more freedom, and some soldiers may have difficulties managing their schedules, especially if they have a job and family.”

Although not always easy, Lyons and Ackerman manage to take care of school work and families but still enjoy a social life. Ackerman can concentrate on school and her family–thanks to federal funds and her GI Bill–but circumstances are different for Lyons.

“I never used my GI because I was completely intimidated by it,” she said. “I had no idea who to talk to or how much it would pay.”  Her GI expired and she had to get a full-time job. Fortunately, she was awarded scholarships from Cynda Alexander of the Non-Traditional Students Program Office and Stephanie Conrad of the Financial Aid Department. Working a full-time job, taking full-time college classes, and finding time for family, friends, and socializing is not easy, but Lyons manages to do it. She says she takes advantage of what the military had taught her and “constantly checks calendars and deadlines to stay a step ahead.”

Both these students admit that, although it changed their lives, the military had a great influence on their lives. “I certainly wouldn’t be the successful, dedicated person I am today if I hadn’t joined the Air Force fifteen years ago, says Lyons. I to realize how much better my life is because of my military experience. “


  • Wendy Lyons says:

    Thanks for letting me tell my side. I’m happy to talk to anyone who is non-traditional and is thrown by this whole college thing! Even at 43, I still stumble around a bit. *grin*

  • Necessity is the mother of all invention. The best comes out when you are pushed to the corner and not many options left out. Nice article and well written.