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Blending In As a Veteran

By COURTNEY HART

The University of Tampa has been named in the top 15 percent for veterans of all colleges nationwide by Victory Media and Military Advanced Education for three years according to the UT Veteran’s section on the UT website. Students in Dr. Margaret Ostrenko’s Communication Research and Methods class conducted a focus group to look at the transition from military to civilian life that veterans face. They have been looking closely at how student social interactions lead to a successful transition from the military.

“This is the best classroom experience I have ever had,” Ostrenko said.

Ostrenko previously taught full time at Saint Leo and USF before deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq as a social scientist for the U.S. Army. Ostrenko has taught at UT on and off since earning her doctorate in communications in 2002.

“We all wanted to chime in. I will never forget one of the military veterans turning to the students and asking if they had ever considered enlisting,” Ostrenko said. “I knew from experience that joining up is a life-choice not to be taken lightly. The veterans spoke of far-off deployments, of adjustments to civilian life that required as much discipline as military life. I was proud that the UT students felt they could be honest about their own attitudes towards those who had served in the armed forces, who sat next to them in classes. For their part, the veterans saw that their service was acknowledged and appreciated.”

Senior public relations and advertising major, Shandi Tarvin, served in the Army right after high school and formulated the idea to conduct a study showing the effect of the college experiences on veterans. Tarvin said she immediately formed a bond with the veterans in the study from the connection they had with serving the country.

The veterans discussed their experiences blending into a college setting and transitioning from serving the country to studying on campus. One of the adaptations they had to make was transitioning from a restricted environment to a more free and open lifestyle.

DeShewn Hines, a senior management major, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2013. A key point that he, Blackmon, and Marsaille made was the need to watch and study the college trends in order to fit in. One of the biggest challenges Hines faced was that his fellow students seemed preoccupied with concerns other than classwork.

“During my time at Hillsborough Community College when I was going for my associate, working in groups was a big challenge because of the different mindsets,” Hines said. “I didn’t want to settle for the lowest possible grade to pass on group projects, and they were okay with whatever grade they received, as long as they passed.”

Hines believes that he is more outspoken now and that it became easier to adjust over time, now that he is back to civilian life.

“You go from having structure while serving to having all this freedom when returning to civilian life and it’s an adjustment,” Hines said.

Hines also credited his civilian mentor, Dr. Andrew Gold, for his successful adjustment. Hines’ relationship with Dr. Gold, a professor in business administration for both UT and Hillsborough Community College, was imperative to Hines’ transition back to civilian life.

“I’m a whole lot further along then I would’ve been if I didn’t have Dr. Gold as a civilian mentor,” Hines said.

With the help that Hines received from Dr. Gold, he is ready to get started with his career.

“I hope to land a job where I can help others achieve success or potentially work for myself as an entrepreneur,” Hines said.

Kimberly Blackmon, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in entrepreneurship, also served before pursuing a higher education, decided to join the Air Force straight out of high school. Blackmon worked stateside during her time in the Air Force and loved it. Nine years later, Blackmon found herself at UT starting a new chapter of her life.

One of the main reasons she went back to school was because of the difficulties she saw with other veterans with finding a career after their service. Blackmon was concerned about blending in, but it did not end up being a problem for her.

“The UT community was really accepting,” Blackmon said. “I got more involved during my second semester, especially with Greek Life, which was great because I was also involved with councils during my time in the Air Force.”

Blackmon graduated from UT in May with a degree in entrepreneurship. She is working on starting up her beauty business by creating a product to clean makeup brushes.

Remie Marsaille, a senior writing major, served in the Army for seven years. Marsaille spent his first semester observing the campus trends. He kept his service on more of the modest side because he didn’t want to be known as “that guy,” who made his military connections publicly known.

Marsaille is thankful for English Professor, Alex Tavares, from when he received his associate degree from Hillsborough Community College, for showing him not to give up or get discouraged when events do not go his way.

“I remember this one time when Professor Tavares brought in a huge stack of rejection letters to show me,” Marsaille said. “It made me realize that I don’t need to be worried or concerned.”

Marsaille also credits his Communication Professor Dr. Gregory Bachman from his screenwriting course.

“Dr. Bachman has helped me to get comfortable about what to expect after my senior year.” Marsaille said.

Marsaille had written several military pieces for his classes and is currently working on a children’s book, “A Duck with a Paddle.” He decided on writing a children’s book after he was reading to his younger cousin one day and did not agree with the how the book flowed and the conclusion. He eventually wants to work for Teach for America or work overseas as an educator.

Although Hines, Blackmon, and Marsaille stated that adjusting back into civilian life was a challenge, they were happy with how accepting UT students have been and how much the professors at UT have helped with their transition.

Courtney Hart can be reached at courtney.hart@spartans.ut.edu.

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