WRITTEN BY: OMBRETTA DI DIO | STAFF WRITER
Eight years ago, Alan Jacques said goodbye to his life as a serviceman. Today, he is a senior biology major at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Before coming to PLNU, Jacques was a Navy Rescue Swimmer in the U.S. Navy. “I used to work on helicopters. I made sure that all Navy personnel was onboard, and I would ensure all press members were seated. You know, I allowed ‘no shenanigans,’” Jacques said.
The student veteran is not alone in his decision to pursue a higher education. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than one million student veterans were enrolled in college or universities as of 2013.
Jacques said he never thought he would go back to college.
“At some point, though, I was dating a girl who was in college,” he said. “She shared her experience with me, and I wanted to learn more about that. I wanted to be part of something similar, so I enrolled in community college,” he said.
PLNU was the next obvious choice, “Point Loma has one of the premier debate teams in the country, and I was involved with the speech and debate team at community college. Plus, I wanted to study biology, and I knew Point Loma pushes students toward research, which is something I wanted to do.”
But transitioning from the military was not easy. He had to relearn how to be a student, “I came from a world where everything was about performance, but in school everything is about knowledge. I have adjusted as well as a 30-year-old – being in an environment tailored for 20-year-old students – could [adjust].”
At PLNU, Jacques found the Student Veteran Organization. The staff advisor for the organization,
David A. Ah Sing, said the group has 60 members, and it includes military dependents and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, “Anybody can join the organization. We want to educate people about life before and after the military.”
Student veterans frequently ask Ah Sing about financial aid and the types of support the university offers. “They [student veterans] are used to military support facilities like Fleet and Family or Family Support Center. Here you can go to OSV, and they will help you write a resume, but the military has more generalized help…social workers for example.”
Ah Sing said students generally adjust well to the new life and take education seriously. Jacques agreed saying, “The structure the military gave me hardened me; it left marks on me. I feel like I have more fortitude, more resistance to stress. The only downside is being 30 [years old] and broke.”
Besides money, Jacques misses the responsibilities that his career gave him, “Being back to the bottom as a student is a pretty big change, you know.”
But Jacques said that he was stoked when he first got into PLNU and that the university has “pushed me to the limit and encouraged me.”
Jacques hopes to pursue a career in cancer research after graduation, “I know I want to spend the rest of my life being a cancer fighter. I think my background in the military and the high caliber of the programs at PLNU made me competitive in the job market.”
While Jacques is excited about the future, he is sad to be leaving PLNU soon.
“It is bittersweet to be done,” Jacques said. “Just like in the military, you and your peers become comrades; you celebrate each other’s victories. But then you move to the needs of life and realize it is time to part ways.”
To the veterans who are interested in attending college, Jacques says, “Reach out to the student veteran clubs at universities or talk to a VA education representative to understand your rights and benefits.”