5 Tips to Help Veterans Succeed in College

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Andrew Porter, an Army veteran, a member of the Alpha Gamma Omega Chapter at Valencia College in Florida, and Phi Theta Kappa’s 2016-2017 International President.


First off, let me say, thank you. We appreciate your sacrifice, your courage, and vigilance in all you have done and continue to do for our nation.

Service members of the United States Armed Forces are a diverse group coming from many different backgrounds and heading in different directions in life. Not every veteran utilizes the educational opportunities that come with military service by attending college. For those who do, use this as a resource for your success.

Returning to college offers many rewarding opportunities. As with any opportunity, it comes with some necessary challenges that, in the end, will be worth it. Veterans face many of the same challenges other students face, with some unique ones as well.

As an Army veteran, I had to make the transition from soldier to student. Along the way, I’ve found five steps that have helped me be successful, and I want to share them with you now.

Step 1: Know Your “Why”

Knowing what you want to do and why you want to do it is pivotal. Success in college (just like in the military) requires hard work — your effort, persistence, and willpower will be rigorously tested. In times like these, gain strength from your “why.”

Determining what you want to do in life and why you want to do it isn’t easy. Finding your answer requires introspection and honest answers to some tough questions about yourself. I’d start here:

What do I want out of life?
Why do I want that?
How do I do that?

The first two questions are going to be up to you to determine. I urge you to ask yourself the second question ad infinitum (just keep asking yourself “why”). The third question of “how” is where you should reach out for guidance.

Step 2: Consider Your Major

You know what you want to do and why you want to do it. Now, find a major that gives you the right knowledge, connections, and training required for you to excel. Seek guidance in this — often academic/career counselors can point you in the right direction.

I’m the type of person who loves to figure things out — I can easily pass hours thinking and planning within my own mind. But life isn’t a single-player game. So, when I’m solving problems, I seek out the help of a team. Your academic advisors will be a great asset to you.

Step 3: Utilize Your Resources

College has a lot of moving parts. Thankfully, there are people whose job it is to help you find clarity and determine your path. The best piece of advice I can give you here is just ask!

As far as academic paths go, having a conversation with an academic advisor can help you get a feel for whether you’re heading in the right direction. Being prepared by having a good idea of what you want and conveying your interests openly and honestly will give your advisor the best chance of advising you effectively. Side note: be sure to set an appointment to avoid the variable wait time for walk-ins.

Additionally, as a veteran, you’re going to need to know all about the benefits to which you are entitled so you can make the most of your college experience. Know the difference between Post 9/11 GI Bill Chapter 31, 33, and 35? I didn’t. For this, head to the Veterans Affairs campus liaison to get squared away. Don’t know where or who that is? Just ask!

If your campus has an Answer Center or something similar, make yourself a frequent visitor. Sure, you could find a lot of the answers online; but for the questions that seem less straight-forward, ask a professional there to help you.

Sometimes, we need resources not necessarily pertaining to school. It could be that transitioning back to civilian life is posing a significant challenge. Hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, etc., are all too common for veterans. There are resources to help — please, reach out for them.

I’ll tell you from personal experience that when I transitioned from a combat zone back to civilian life, I felt I had lost my purpose. Mental health counselors, either from the Department of Veterans Affairs or from your college, can be a tremendous asset in helping you stay focused, driven, and positive about life.

Step 4: Get Involved

Let’s address the elephant in the room: maybe you didn’t want to return to college because of fear of failure. I’ve been there. College used to intimidate me; I thought I wasn’t the “college type.” Turns out I was wrong. But that pervasive negativity was all too real when I believed it.

Getting involved on campus was the best decision of my academic career — it showed me a way to realize my potential in the classroom, in college, and in life. Seriously, join a club or organization that challenges, encourages, and provides you opportunities for personal and professional development and allows you to stay connected with people.

Connecting with people you care about and who care about you is so important, I regularly hear stories from friends about how thankful they are for their network, and how they couldn’t have done it without them.

Don’t know how to get involved? Just ask! Your student leaders, advisors, and members can give you a first-person experience of what it’s like and point you in the right direction. Check with your campus office for Student Development/Engagement (names will vary based on institution) for a list of student clubs/organizations.

Step 5: Be Confident and Stay Humble

I saved the most important for last. This is intangible but, in my opinion, more useful than anything else. Be confident in your skills, yourself, and your ability to learn. Make it a point to continually reinforce what is called a “growth mindset” — basically, understanding that you may not be able to do something now, but through hard work and diligence, you will be able to in the future. Gain confidence from this.

Humility is attractive — people want to be around you. I want you to be confident, to believe in yourself, to jump in and get involved, and to make the most of your college experience and life. Just remain humble and always give back.

I want to end by again saying thank you. To all service members, the families and friends, and those who offer thanks and support to veterans, thank you! It truly means a lot.

Phi Theta Kappa is proud to offer a complimentary Military Service Honor Cord to our members who are both active military members and veterans. If your PTK record indicates that you are a member of the military, we will automatically include a Military Service Honor Cord free with your purchase of Phi Theta Kappa graduation regalia.

People of PTK: Andrew Kirkpatrick

In the early morning hours after his high school graduation, Andrew Kirkpatrick packed up and drove with his father from Los Angeles to Billings, Missouri. He had just accomplished what few teachers ever thought he would, and he was thinking about the road ahead.

Only, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about college. In elementary school, he’d fallen behind in reading and was put in special education classes through junior high, until his momentum shifted. He’d been told he probably wouldn’t graduate from high school.

“I took things into my own hands,” he said. “I wanted to prove them wrong, and I was driven to improve myself.”

Andrew finished high school with a 3.6 GPA and began considering his next step. He’d always been good at working with his hands and had picked up many skills from his father, grandfather and uncles.

One uncle, a welder in the Navy, has a shop down the road from Andrew’s home in Billings. Andrew wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and saw it as a good way to make a living. He decided to learn the trade.

Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) is about a 20-minute drive from Andrew’s home in Billings. It had everything he wanted, if not more, and he initially set out to get his certificate in welding, which he’ll receive this month.

After finishing his first semester at the top of his class — despite never having welded before — Andrew’s confidence grew, and he decided to give an associate degree in welding a shot. He’s taking general education courses, was exempt from his math final, has a 4.0 GPA, and is on track to graduate in spring 2018.

“I never thought it would have been possible,” he said. “When you think of college, it sounds so terrifying; but when you break it down course by course, it’s not that hard.

“It just goes to prove that hard work does pay off.”

Andrew was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa toward the end of his freshman year. It was another affirmation that he was on the right path.

And, it was yet another way of proving wrong the naysayers from his past.

“I never thought (Phi Theta Kappa would) want anything to do with me,” he said. “I felt so honored to be invited. It was the icing on the cake.”

Andrew is also a member of the American Welding Society. His peers in the Springfield Chapter noticed his potential and selected him to attend a leadership conference this summer.

And, he and his team placed first overall in welding fabrication in a recent SkillsUSA district competition and third overall in the state competition. Andrew grabbed first place in the writing portion of the district competition.

Upon graduation next year, Andrew hopes to work for a company like ABEC, which provides engineering, equipment, and services to the biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry. The organization gives support to the life-changing advances being made in the Life Science Industry, and Andrew is eager to help them make a difference.

In the meantime, Andrew is usually found behind a welder’s mask either at home, his uncle’s, or at OTC. When he finishes classes, he often heads straight to the OTC welding shop to see if his teachers need help with anything or to assist new students in the welding program.

“I’ve had tremendous teachers here,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to learn from these teachers and from my dad, my uncles, and my grandfather. I’ve had a great group of people who’ve helped well-round me.”

Photo Credit: Kristina Bridges-Templeton, Ozarks Technical Community College

25 Years of Setting Apart the College Experience

Setting apart the college experience through an unparalleled personal growth opportunity — that’s how Distinguished Alumnus, former White House Fellow, television host, and best-selling author Wes Moore described Phi Theta Kappa’s Leadership Development Studies curriculum: “It taught me how to excel in the world.”

For 25 years, Phi Theta Kappa has brought a unique humanities perspective on leadership learning and growth to existing and emerging leaders in colleges and communities around the world, from North America to Europe and Asia. Grounded in the thought, observations, and actions of diverse authors and leaders through history, the curriculum emphasizes that the exercise of leadership is a human endeavor, transcending any academic discipline.

Since 1992, tens of thousands of students — members and non-members — have set apart their college experience with the nationally recognized curriculum, Phi Theta Kappa Leadership Development Studies: A Humanities Approach.

In 1999, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) named the Phi Theta Kappa leadership program as one of only eight Exemplary Programs in American higher education among those it had funded during the 1990s. During the evaluation process, WKKF identified key components that distinguished programs as Exemplary, including the intellectual framework, practices, and sustainability.

For Phi Theta Kappa’s leadership program, the details of these components include:

  • Intellectual framework — the philosophical foundation of the program
    • emphasizes the leadership potential of all people
    • focuses on ethical and socially responsible actions
    • views leadership through the lens of relational processes
  • Practices — the methods employed in the program include
    • dialogue-based learning
    • integrating humanities selections from philosophy, literature, history, and film for students to consider in the development of their own personal philosophy of leadership and to understand the authentic exercise of leadership
    • experiential, immersive, and assessment activities to practice leadership skills and enhance self-awareness
    • shared analysis and synthesis of the material and the activities for the development of leadership knowledge, creating critical and systems thinking, and building leadership capacity for action
  • Sustainability — the program has endured and evolved through
    • planned evaluation and revisions to strengthen it and maintain its relevance
    • involving faculty and administrators in commitments to institutional and community impact through professional development

This last feature, the professional development of faculty and administrators, has been a central feature of the program’s success over its 25-year history. Attendance at a Leadership Instructor Certification Seminar is a pre-requisite to facilitating the program and involves intensive exposure to the methodologies and a deep exploration of how to create the most effective leadership development environment.

“It was exciting and enlightening that so much insight could be gained from 3 1/2 days of highly engaged dialogue and demonstration,” Dr. Aldena Harris, a Phi Theta Kappa advisor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, wrote of her experience in a 2016 Seminar. Read her first-person account.

Two Leadership Instructor Certification Seminars will take place at Phi Theta Kappa’s Center for Excellence in Jackson, Mississippi, this summer, July 10-13 and July 20-23. Learn more.

Download the full WKKF report on leadership programs in higher education.

Explore Chicago to Learn How the World Works

During the 2017 Honors Institute at Loyola University on June 5-10, participants will spend Wednesday investigating the city of Chicago with their seminar groups as part of the City As TextTM learning experience. Then, on Thursday, short presentations by the seminar groups will create a comprehensive overview of Chicago as a diverse, vibrant city and highlight the varied perspectives on “How the World Works.”

City As TextTM is an experiential learning opportunity created by educational theorist David A. Kolb, who wrote that “learning, change, and growth are seen to be facilitated best by an integrated process that begins with here-and-now experience followed by collection of data and observations about that experience.”

Wednesday morning’s general session will provide an orientation to ensure that all participants are prepared to engage in the City As TextTM experience. It will also include some historical and contemporary perspectives about Chicago and generate excitement for learning in-depth about a particular part of America’s “Second City.”

On Wednesday afternoon seminar groups will travel via Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA’s) red line, adjacent to the Loyola University’s Lake Shore Campus, to their specifically assigned (and safe) areas of the city. Faculty Scholars, advisors leading the seminar groups, selected their areas for exploration by lottery at January’s Faculty Scholar Conference.

At Thursday morning’s Sixth General Session, each seminar group will present a brief summary of its findings from walking around, observing, and talking with people who live and work in these neighborhoods. Exploring different areas of Chicago and hearing from each seminar group will offer participants meaningful insights into one of the United States’ great cities.

“A key component of the City As TextTM methodology involves dialogue among the participants and with the people in the area,” said Susan Edwards, Associate Vice President of Honors Programs and Learning. “Participants will discover differences in their personal observations and perspectives about the area and add depth to their exploration of an area through interactions with people who live and work there.”

City As TextTM strategies will include mapping, observing, listening, and reflecting.

The City As TextTM presentations make up the 2017 Blank Lecture, which honors Professor Robert Blank. Prior to his retirement, Blank was a history professor and Phi Theta Kappa chapter advisor at the State University of New York in Farmingdale and served as New England/Middle States Regional Coordinator.

Blank is a past chairman of the Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors and served for many years as Honors Institute Coordinator. He was instrumental in developing the concept of seminar groups.

Don’t miss this opportunity to discover a place in an entirely new way. Learn more about Honors Institute, and register before May 12.

See the Next Generation of Great Comedians

Participants will enjoy a performance by the famed iO Theatre improvisational acting troupe during Phi Theta Kappa’s 50th Honors Institute at Loyola University in Chicago June 5-10.

Using theater games created by Viola Spolin, David Shepard created the ImprovOlympic theatre (now the iO) in 1981 to pit competing improv teams against each other in friendly and funny competitions.

As the theater began to become popular among the improv troupes being formed in Chicago, former student and new producer Charna Halpern met legendary Second City director and improv luminary Del Close. With Del serving as the mentor and Charna the guide, “longform improvisation” was born, and the two would eventually help change the face of improvisational comedy.

The ImprovOlympic theater quickly became the mecca of improvisation, and its approach to the art — and comedy in general — began to shape and influence the minds of many of today’s most iconic and influential comedic entertainers. Alumni include Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, and Chris Farley, among many others.

After almost 20 years in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, the iO recently moved to a new home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The new location boasts four theaters, two bars, and an expanded training center and events space.

The iO actors will travel to Loyola University to perform their critically acclaimed, long-running news satire, “Whirled News Tonight,” for Honors Institute attendees.

“Whirled News Tonight” strives to provide not only a satirical turn on current events, but also another human point of view of those stories. The show was created by Jason R. Chin and has been playing to packed houses since September 2003.

The iO performance is presented as the 2017 Freeman Lecture, which honors Dr. Janice Freeman and Dr. Joyce Freeman. The twin sisters are both Phi Theta Kappa alumni and retired professors of biology at Texas A&M University. They were named Distinguished Alumni in 1975 and recipients of the Board of Directors Alumni Achievement Award in 2005. The Freemans have served on the Society’s Board of Directors, on the Foundation Board of Trustees, as chapter advisors, and as alumni advisors.

Learn more about the 2017 Honors Institute online, and register before the May 12 deadline.

Pianist to Bring “Chicago” to Life at Honors Institute

When Ethan Uslan was 9, his family acquired a piano. After his mother taught him the only song she knew (“Heart and Soul”), she handed him over to classical pianist Faina Litenzon, who taught him scales, how to read music, and the importance of playing with feeling.

As a teenager, Ethan wanted to try some new musical genres to supplement his classical music. So he found jazz pianist Dan Crisci, who taught him the fundamentals of jazz improvisation and theory.

Ethan went on to study classical piano and musicology at Indiana University, continuing his diligent practice at the piano. Meanwhile, in the classroom, he had the opportunity to study the history of American popular music with Jeffrey Magee, who wrote the authoritative biography of Irving Berlin. Although Ethan never had a teacher who specialized in ragtime piano playing, the other teachers in his life had given him all the tools he needed to figure it out himself.

Today Ethan is one of the hottest names on the ragtime/traditional jazz scene. He has competed in the World Championship since 2005, winning in 2007 and advancing to the finals six times. Ethan has performed on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion and at various concerts and festivals nationwide.

Get a preview of Ethan’s talent.

He makes his home in his Charlotte, North Carolina, where he has enjoyed performing, accompanying silent movies, and playing with the Charlotte Symphony. Ethan has served as an adjunct visiting lecturer of music at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and has recorded three CDs as well several silent film scores on DVD.

During the 2017 Honors Institute Modschiedler Lecture, Ethan will accompany the silent film Chicago, the Roxie Hart story. Learn more about the 2017 Honors Institute online, and register by May 12!

This lecture recognizes the contributions of Dr. John Modschiedler, advisor emeritus at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. During his 15 years as advisor, the chapter at the College of DuPage grew to be the largest in the entire Society.

A Passion for Fashion

Behind every well-dressed influential woman, you’ll find a fashion designer. For style icons like Michelle Obama, Brooke Shields, and Oprah Winfrey, that designer is Maria Pinto.

Maria will join us at Loyola University in Chicago June 5-10 for Honors Institute 2017. She will speak during the third general session on Tuesday, June 6, and give us a glimpse into how the fashion industry world works.

Registration for Honors Institute is open now through May 12. Reserve your spot.

Maria’s presentation is sponsored by Dr. Joan Fedor, a longtime chapter advisor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington. She is a former Regional Coordinator and a current member of the Honors Program Council.

Fedor and her late husband, Robert, were among the first to endow Honors Institute lectures. She was named an International Honorary Member at Phi Theta Kappa’s 2008 International Convention.

Maria is a native Chicagoan who, after working for Geoffrey Beene in New York, broke into the fashion industry on her own in 1991 with a line of scarves. Seemingly overnight her pieces were a sensation and were being sold a major department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Eveningwear followed, and soon Chicago’s elite were knocking down her door. She added suits, dresses and jackets to her collection in 2004, using luxurious fabrics like alpaca, leather and wool.

Maria built a reputation for producing beautiful fashion with a contemporary design and lasting craftsmanship. Throughout her career, she has designed for the modern woman—her clothing is versatile, and it makes the wearer feel elegant and confident.

As the recession hit, Maria took a break from designing in 2010 and joined Mark Shale, a multi-store retailer, as Creative Director. As she sourced collections from around the world, she discovered two things: there was a void in the market for high-quality garments in an accessible price range, and she missed being a designer.

These discoveries led to the launch of M2057 in 2013, a ready-to-wear capsule collection of modern dresses, jackets, and wraps. Maria described the M2057 customer in a 2016 interview with Forbes:

“Fierce, intelligent, and she does not want to sacrifice being feminine to succeed in what was one, and perhaps still is a little, a man’s world. She is looking for effortless fashion that helps her look impeccable and feel beautiful for whatever life throws her way.”

M2057 was launched on Kickstarter, raising more than $270,000. The achievement led to Maria being one of the first recognized designers to run a successful fashion Kickstarter project and launch a collection on the crowdfunding website.

Maria has also designed fashions for the Joffrey Ballet, The James Hotel in Chicago, and the Skylark Bar in New York. Her work has been featured at Chicago’s Field Museum and is now part of a permanent collection there. She also received the “Legend of Fashion” award from the School of the Art Institute, her alma mater.

Historian to Provide Chicago Perspective for Honors Institute

Dr. Domenico Ferri will set the stage for Honors Institute City As TextTM explorations during the First General Session on Monday, June 5, by discussing the evolution of the Chicago metropolitan area from a frontier outpost to a modern metropolis. He will highlight relevant economic, social, political, and cultural changes and analyze the city’s current problems in context of their historical background.

Ferri earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in history from Chicago’s Loyola University. His dissertation, “Funk My Soul: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Funk, and the Recasting of Black America,” reflects his focus on race, culture, and social identity.

He teaches United States and world history, American Social Problems, and History of the Chicago Metropolitan Area at Harold Washington College and co-chairs the Social and Applied Sciences Department. Ferri is a six-time winner of the Harold Washington College Employee of the Month Award. He has also taught history at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago.

Ferri’s work has been published and he has presented at numerous conferences. He is also responsible for organizing college-wide talks on race and as the transcriber for oral history projects.

His lecture pays tribute to Dr. Gayle Wyatt, a former member of Phi Theta Kappa Headquarters staff, who played a key role in the creation and development of the Honors Study Topic and Honors Institute. Dr. Wyatt is a former college teacher who served as Academic Dean at Navarro College. He resides in Texas.

To begin a week of studying the Honors Study Topic and exploring the city of Chicago, Ferri’s presentation will help participants to:

  • Explore Chicago’s environmental, economic, social, cultural, and political history
  • Highlight how Chicago has exemplified fundamental trends in the broader scheme of national urban development.
  • Draw links between race relations and urban change.
  • Probe Chicago’s popular culture and examine historical problems of race, class, and gender.

Honors Institute is a unique honors programming event that engages participants in the study of timely, real-world issues. Learn more about our 50th Annual Honors Institute at Loyola University, Chicago, and register today!