University life is never easy, but it can be even tougher when you don’t seem to fit the mold of the average college student. For students like Jennifer Short and Jason Niemetz, however, the experience of life at UC Merced is worth what it took to get here.
Both Short and Niemetz are military veterans, which puts them among the 4 percent of students over the age of 25 on this campus. Meanwhile, fellow student Joseph Ng is trying to juggle school and military service as a reservist.
Short is working on a degree in cellular biology, but it took her a couple of years to find her direction after serving a four-year stint in the U.S. Army.
Despite the larger-than-life experiences of being stationed at Fort Hood and serving in Bosnia, she struggles with the fact that other people her age have already established their careers and started their families.
“I feel like I started life late. I feel it more than I think other students notice it. But it’s there,” she said. “However, I am definitely following my path now. I’m very happy. It may be my age, but I think the military also prepared me for this. There’s no such thing as late in the army.”
In the U.S. Marine Corps, Niemetz was a crew member on a C130 aircraft, facilitating aerial refueling, dropping paratroopers and hauling supplies. He was stationed in Japan for two years, in Texas for three, and racked up a couple hundred hours assisting with the tsunami relief efforts in Asia in 2003-04.
Niemetz is grateful for the assistance he gets from the Montgomery GI Bill; it pays for tuition and some living expenses. “It’s pretty awesome; I’m not going to lie. Things would be a lot more stressful if I had to worry about making enough money during the week,” he said candidly.
“I didn’t get to be a part of student life before, but now it’s something I want,” Niemetz said, “My experience in the Marine Corps taught me responsibility and leadership. It focused me on what I want to do and to excel rather than squeak through.”
Fresh out of basic training, Ng can already tell that the military will have a profound effect on his life as a student.
“I am in the Marine Corps officer training program. Basically, I will earn my four-year degree and go through training in the summers, and be with my unit one weekend a month,” Ng explained.
The sophomore has a double major in psychology and sociology with a minor in the arts, but says that the 13 weeks of boot camp last summer were the most physically and mentally challenging of his life.
Ng took a photography class last year and discovered a new passion. The corps, he said, is showing him his leadership potential, which he has put into practice this semester as the founder and president of the campus photography club. The Marine Corps is teaching Ng a lot about himself, and so is UC Merced.
For information on Veteran Services at UC Merced, visit: veteranservices.ucmerced.edu.