A New Path After Years Of Service

Veterans pursue degrees, find support at UW Colleges
11/7/17
By UW Colleges

Military boots in a display near an American flag

Megan Syverson served in the Navy for 9 years, 2 months and 26 days. She knew she wanted to join the military since middle school after attending her cousin's boot camp graduation. 

"I was Navy all the way," said Syverson. "I originally said the military was going to be my college." 

Syverson completed four deployments and traveled from the coast of Africa, to the Middle East, to Indonesia and more. As she got older, she discovered it was time for a new path. 

One of her classmates, Jeremiah Swanson, served in the Air Force for more than 7 years. He enjoyed every minute of it and would have continued had it not been for an injury. 

"I got injured, so I had to get out," said Swanson. "I decided I needed to do something with my life and after making a list of things I wanted to do and things I thought I could be good at, I decided I needed to go to college." 

Both Megan and Jeremiah found their original plans needed to change. For the next phase of their lives, they chose the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha to pursue a college degree. Each student had their own reasons for choosing a UW Colleges campus, but some key factors stood out. 

"The faculty was totally flexible. The professors were supportive, helpful, willing and very patient," said Syverson. 

"The professors are always friendly," said Swanson. 

Military patches in a display on campus

Engaged faculty and a world-class education close to home were important for both students. These qualities helped quell some original anxieties about returning to school after years away. 

"I was nervous about coming back, having not been to school in a while," said Swanson. "But after I started I realized there wasn't much of a gap. Everyone is learning the same material and everyone is trying hard."  

Like any new student, Swanson and Syverson experienced some early nervousness when they made the decision to go back to school. There was an adjustment period of learning a new routine and figuring out how to best work with their younger peers. The welcoming environment on campus helped. 

"Older students and veterans should just know that they belong here and they have a lot to offer," said Ellyn Lem, English professor and Student Veterans Association advisor. "It's a fantastic place for anybody to get started on their education." 

Today, Syverson is pursuing a degree in natural sciences at UW-Whitewater. Jeremiah will be finishing up his sophomore year at UW-Waukesha in the spring. Both feel they made the right choice in pursuing a college degree, and have some advice for veterans or other adults considering returning to school. 

"If you're thinking about school, give it a try," said Swanson. "Think about where you're trying to go and you'll probably see school will help you get there." 

"Be patient, stick it out, absolutely do it and do everything you can," said Syverson. "As cheesy as it sounds, believe in yourself because it's totally possible." 

Both Jeremiah and Megan expected to serve in the military for their entire careers. When their plans changed, they found supportive faculty, quality education and a new path at UW-Waukesha.