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“Mission First, People Always”: 5 Veterans and a Milspouse Reflect on Their Military Experience and Passion for Service at 2U

Written by Mosaic on Nov 11, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Life at 2U

Clockwise from top left: Nicole Carter, Joe Santos, Adam Reed, Lisa Strickland-Rouleau and her husband, Jerran Leder, and José Santos

On all days, and especially Veterans Day, 2U celebrates U.S. military service members, past and present, who have made sacrifices big and small to keep our country strong, safe, and rife with opportunity.

Vice President of University Growth Nicole Carter, Social Media Operations Specialist Jerran Leber, Director of Real Estate Operations Adam Reed, Admissions Manager Joe Santos, Vice President and Team Lead of Program Strategy José Santos, and Senior Student Success Advisor Lisa Strickland-Rouleau are just six of the many veterans and military family members at 2U making a powerful difference with students, educators, and our university partners around the world.

We recently sat down with these six mission-driven employees to hear what Veterans Day means to them, why they’re passionate about education, and how they’re applying their military experience to their role at 2U today.

Why did you decide to join the military?

José Santos (Marine Corps): I grew up in an economically depressed community in Stockton, CA, and like many young folks who grew up in my kind of environment, I didn’t feel like I had many good options in life. My dad had served, and I was inspired by my brother-in-law who served in Vietnam, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 years old. Enlisting turned out to be the best decision of my life.

Jerran Leber (Army National Guard): I wanted to carry on the military service that my grandfather, aunt, and brother did; all three of them were active duty Army. I joined the Army National Guard because I wanted to serve my country and simultaneously be able to go to college.

Lisa Strickland-Rouleau (Air Force spouse): I grew up with a dad who was in the Army, and now, I’m married to the senior Air Force advisor to the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. Being a military family is all we know. Though our transient lifestyle makes it difficult to ever feel at home, we’ve all learned how to “be home” for each other.

Adam Reed (Army Reserves and Guard Reserve): I always felt as though I had a duty to serve.

Nicole Carter (Army): I attended West Point for college, seeing that it would be an adventure and a path to a great education.

Joe Santos (Air Force): I wanted to join the military after watching the movie “The Guardian.” I felt inspired by the discipline and the great lengths one will go to protect and save others. So I went to a Coast Guard recruiter one day, but as I left I saw a cool billboard for the Air Force with fighter jets in the background. Next thing you know, I was signing my enlistment documentation with them instead.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

Adam: Veterans Day is a time to acknowledge, remember, and honor those who have served and who are still serving. It is also a time to remind ourselves that all we have, which we often take for granted, could easily be taken away—if not for the people who volunteer to put their lives in harm’s way for our nation and our people, regardless of their differences.

Nicole: For me, Veterans Day is a day to think about those with whom I was lucky enough to serve. We share a special bond and unique experiences that connect us for life.

Joe: Veterans Day is about a fraternity of men and women who sacrificed it all to serve the nation and are willing to put everything aside to help each other out, anytime, anywhere. Setting aside differences, race, ethnicity, beliefs, you name it—when you call on your brothers and sisters in arms, we are there to provide full support. We uphold ourselves to the highest standards and want the best for each other and for our communities. I’m proud when others can tell that I have served. It speaks volumes for me.

How are you applying what you learned from your military experience to your role at 2U today?

Nicole: 2U is a place where so many people depend on each other to deliver great outcomes for students and university partners. We’re all focused on one objective, which reminds me a lot of the Army. We had a saying during my military days: “semper gumby,” which loosely translates to “always flexible.” In a military operation, situations change quickly, and remaining agile and flexible in the face of a dynamic environment is critical to success. 2U is a fast-moving company that is constantly growing, changing, and innovating. The Army also taught me “mission first, people always.” When you genuinely trust the people to your left and right (as I did in the Army and now), you come out of these experiences as stronger people and a stronger company.

Joe: Some of my key takeaways from the Air Force that assist with my success at 2U are things like attention to detail, teamwork, and service before self. We all need to work together to reach the goal; one person can’t do it alone. I also learned how to be tactful in my approach and in conversation, and confident in my decision-making. Due to the high-stress training while in service, I remain extremely calm and perform better under pressure. Finally, I don’t believe in failure or making excuses. I have to figure things out and get the job done, regardless of the situation.

Adam: Early on, the military gave me a great amount of confidence to lead—something I was lacking as a teenager post-high school. The military gives you a great sense of accountability and accomplishment and removes any inhibitions you might have when it comes to taking charge. It really gave me the drive to do whatever I had to do to fix a situation. The military gave me the structure I needed, and that has stayed with me at 2U.

Lisa: I came to 2U from a traditional higher education background. It was a big jump to move into a cutting-edge edtech space like 2U. It was all new, but I am no stranger to change. I was able to easily adapt and evolve my expectations, and I credit that to the military way of life that I have learned to love. What’s also great about working for 2U is that they’re the first-ever company to offer me a career that I can persist with between military assignments!

José: I apply everything I learned from the Marine Corps to everyday life. Where should I start? I believe in lifting people up to strengthen a team. I don’t tolerate a lot of drama. I love being part of folks who share my values in getting stuff done. And I believe in these 14 leadership traits I learned early on: justice, judgement, dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge (be prepared), loyalty, and enthusiasm. We call this list “JJ DID TIE BUCKLE”—because everything in the Corps is an acronym.

Jerran: From being super-organized to being a solid team player, I’ve always applied the skills I’ve gained from the military to my work at 2U. In fact, many of those skills parallel 2U’s own Guiding Principles, including Make Service Your Mission, Cherish Each Opportunity, and Don’t Let the Skeptic Win.

What do you value most about education?

Joe: I value the ability to have any form of information readily available at your fingertips. The more you know the better your opportunities will be and your way of life. You will have the knowledge to problem-solve and find better solutions—not just for class assignments but also for everyday experiences.

Lisa: In a world where all major decisions and life events are influenced by the military machine, education gave me a path back to myself. Every degree that I pursued offered me a small avenue where I was not just a wife or a mom, or an Air Force dependent. Finding novel ways to enhance individual experiences and opportunities, through education, can be the catalyst that makes a difference in the life of a spouse who has no choice but to follow wherever Uncle Sam leads. I feel so intimately connected to the work I am doing at 2U, especially with military students.

Adam: I believe that as long as we are hungry and humble lifetime learners and don’t become mired in “the way it is” or “the way it has always been,” then we can continue to excel in work, relationships, and life. Formal education has become a way to either get your foot in the proverbial door or a way to specialize for a career. Veterans specifically have the ability to utilize the benefit of the GI Bill for degree programs, vocational programs, etc. They can polish their resume before rejoining the civilian workforce, which definitely provides access to more and different opportunities.

José: Education for me is a journey, much like our lives. I hope that education, whether formal or informal, helps to get me to a transformed place where I can interpret everything around me from a critical perspective. The more informed the perspective, the better it is. Education should also be a vehicle that allows us to navigate cultures and worlds that are similar to ours and vastly different. This allows us to appreciate others in ways that honor their authentic selves. It is the surest way to move from one social stratum to the other. Education changed my life and that of my children.

Jerran: What I value most about education is the opportunity it gives you. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to do so much in my life and be the first person in my family to graduate from college. My passion for education has brought me to 2U in order to keep making service my mission and helping everyone I can now in civilian life.

Nicole: My dad is a first-generation college graduate, so I’ve seen first-hand how access to a college education has changed the trajectory of his life (and mine). When I think about how 2U is increasing that kind of access on a broad scale—in professions like nursing and social work that are so desperately needed—it makes me proud of the work we do. Education is also an excellent springboard to a new civilian career for transitioning service members. Military educational benefits allow those service members to leverage their diverse talents, skills, and experiences from the military while charting a new path in the civilian world.

If you went back in time and were currently serving, what’s one 2U-powered degree program, boot camp, or short course you’d find particularly helpful?

Jerran: One degree I would have found very helpful in the Army National Guard is MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA. The program would have helped me more with supply chain logistics as a supply specialist.

Adam: I would have loved to focus my degree on data science and analytics. Using data to drive and refine business is incredibly interesting and powerful. I’d still love to do a data analytics boot camp. It just looks really fun to me!

Nicole: I’d probably say the Negotiation Strategies short course through Yale School of Management. It’s such an important skill for both our personal and professional lives.

Joe: I think a cybersecurity boot camp would have been extremely useful. It’s important to know how to safeguard strategic and tactical information networks.

José: I would have loved to be able to “chunk” my education the way 2U helps enable learners now, allowing me the flexibility to take a course here and there in between duty stations, deployments, etc., in order to eventually string together either a degree or any number of alternative credentials toward my educational goals.

Lisa: Just the concept of a reputable and reliable online option would have been an incredible opportunity for me! Military spouses are relegated to whatever opportunities are easily accessible at whatever duty station they’re at, for however long they’re there. 2U’s offerings help eliminate that obstacle. It really is quite remarkable.

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