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5 Veterans Share Their Journeys from Service to Education to Career

Written by Molly Forman on Nov 11, 2020

Related content: Higher Education, Outcomes

The valiant sacrifice and dedication of U.S. veterans form the foundation of the American way of life. They are ordinary Americans who have performed extraordinary service for our nation, affording us our freedoms and enduring values of patriotism and courage. To do so, they often have to put their personal and professional lives on hold—all to ensure the safety and well-being of the country.

When they return home from their tours of service, veterans search for opportunities to pursue the goals and dreams they put aside, and one avenue they take to re-enter the workforce and learn how their leadership and operational skills transfer to civilian careers is through education.

Much like military training, education can be structured, rigorous, intensive, and it can offer the critical skills needed to succeed in the field. We know this to be true for 2U-powered programs, many of which are utilized by veterans to pave the way for their future careers. Read on to learn the stories of five veterans who have found fulfillment in education and now, in the workforce.

Jeff Cleland

When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Jeff Cleland knew he wanted to give back. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent the next three years as a machine gunner in Iraq. At 21, an injury cut his service short, and Jeff was sent home.

Transitioning back to civilian life wasn’t easy for Jeff. “People shook my hand and thanked me for my service,” he said. “But nobody wanted to hire me.”

After taking several jobs to make ends meet, Jeff learned that Syracuse University was launching an online Executive Master of Public Administration program and jumped on the opportunity to learn the skills needed for his long-term career aspirations.

Today, Jeff continues to learn and seek new challenges in his role at Amazon managing the company’s state transportation public policy.

Damita Zweiback

While on active duty at the Pentagon working with the Navy Surgeon General’s office in medicine, Damita Zweiback was simultaneously completing an executive MBA program at the Naval Postgraduate School. She was researching for her thesis on cybersecurity when she realized that there weren’t enough qualified candidates to meet the demand for talent in an increasingly important industry.

Damita’s thesis work reignited her passions for computers, data science, and analytics, and seeing the cybersecurity field as a great opportunity to pursue those passions, she enrolled in the GW Data Analytics Boot Camp.

Damita was thrilled with her experience. “Boot camp really painted a wide brush across a huge variety of topics,” she said. “There was a lot to learn, but it really allowed us to explore so many facets of the industry we otherwise might not have experienced.”

Post-boot camp, Damita pursued a highly-coveted position at Amazon, and the same day she interviewed she was offered the solutions architect apprenticeship.

Carlo Mencarelli

When Carlo Mencarelli finished high school, he knew he needed a stronger purpose in life. The next day, he entered his local recruiting office and started the process to enlist.

The Marine Corps provided Jeff with an extremely powerful work ethic and the drive to finish any job—no matter what. His job required him to assume responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment, tracking the equipment records and maintenance personnel and records, and drafting and enforcing policies across the detachment. Managing the incredibly large amount of data wasn’t easy, but it was a mission Jeff was proud to take on to help inform the command’s decisions.

After completing his service, Jeff wanted to delve deeper into data and further his knowledge of statistics to prepare him for a career in the data analytics field. He found Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, which offers online information science master’s programs, and never looked back.

Now, Jeff is in the industry he always wanted to be a part of as a senior cloud engineer at BillGo.

Chris Helm

After he completed two tours of duty in the Marine Corps, Chris Helm wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next. He had always been interested in computers, so he took that as a sign to set his curiosity into action.

“I saw the CWRU Coding Boot Camp and signed up immediately, going into the tech industry cold turkey,” he said. “I didn’t know about HTML or CSS. I knew nothing about computers, just that you type and check emails on them. I had to learn how to learn.”

Now, Chris is fulfilling his dreams as a software engineer at AtomRain—and he’s the happiest he’s ever been.

Dalton Ricker

Dalton Ricker intended to enroll at Georgia Tech for college, but ultimately he made the decision to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Little did he know that six years later, he would end up right where he started.

After serving as a marine engineer, Dalton searched for a career change. But with such specialized expertise, he struggled to find work outside of the maritime industry. With an interest in programming and coding, Dalton set out to expand his knowledge and do so through the Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp.

Dalton admits that there was quite a learning curve to overcome. “With JavaScript, I felt like I was learning an entirely foreign language,” Dalton said. “But at some point, it just kind of clicked. Afterwards, everything seemed a lot simpler than what I was making it out to be.”

Equipped with the skills he needed to pursue a new career path, Dalton started a new job as a software developer at Wayfair.

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