From Special Forces to the Contemporary Classroom, CTU Keeps Soldiers on Their Toes
By James Hendrickson, Vice President of Military Relations
In my role at CTU, I have the unique privilege of working to improve educational experiences for military students, veterans and their families. I learned of Staff Sgt. Perez’s story and felt compelled to share it. His story is reflective of many military service members and veterans I encounter who are looking to further their education but struggle to find a military-friendly school that fits their needs.
Staff Sgt. Ricardo Perez is not a traditional student. So, it makes sense that traditional classrooms aren’t quite his thing.
“I just didn’t feel like I fit in, I just didn’t like it much,” he said, in regard to his learning stint at a branch of a large public university. After four years in the military, he felt he had gained the equivalent of eight years of maturity. It turns out, when one is working in psychological operations under the U.S. Army Special Forces unit in Iraq, as Staff Sgt. Perez had done, one matures pretty quickly.
At the large university, he sat in the back of huge classrooms, trying his best to learn in an environment that seemed to cater more toward the younger students sitting in front of him, spending lecture time on Facebook and Twitter.
“They haven’t had the military experience I’ve had,” Staff Sgt. Perez said. “They just want the college experience.”
For a staff sergeant who spent time in a war zone and loves to read, that college experience didn’t align with pursuing a degree, working toward the future and recovering from war injuries. In fact, the experience he had at the traditional university discouraged him enough to postpone his education. Staff Sgt. Perez was used to working and learning as he did in the military: unconventionally and outside the box. “I actually practiced that thinking in Iraq, and it has become a part of me,” he said.
Luckily, Staff Sgt. Perez had previously found educational success before trying the traditional route. As a wounded warrior, he was doing physical therapy at a military base in Houston when he met an educational counselor who told him about Colorado Technical University’s (CTU) Wounded Warrior Scholarship program. The scholarship program provides an educational opportunity to those whose lives are permanently changed by a physical injury sustained while serving their country. The scholarships cover the full cost of tuition, course materials and fees, as well as a new laptop computer. Sensing a good opportunity, he applied and was accepted to the program.
Staff Sgt. Perez entered the CTU program in 2009, and completed his associate degree by late 2010. CTU’s program was similar to, and a good transition from, the military and Staff Sgt. Perez felt a pressure to perform educationally as he had in the war zone. “There are more assignments, which are due more often. But in the military, you are under pressure so often that you get used to that,” he said. In the CTU program, with smaller classes and group projects, Staff Sgt. Perez was able to use that contemporary, unconventional thinking that he learned in the military.
“I’m not going to school to be a lawyer or doctor or something traditional,” Staff Sgt. Perez said. He has a desire to go further into the field of psychology that he first worked in during his time in Iraq — and because of that, it is difficult for him to be motivated about taking the exploratory courses that often are required in traditional education environments. Staff Sgt. Perez is again looking into furthering his education, and he feels a school like CTU, not a traditional university, will be the way to go. “The traditional school system seems way outdated. But CTU is more contemporary and fits courses to the real world.” And for a soldier whose vision of the real world was shaped during war, the right learning environment is critical to his educational success.
Image credit: Colorado Technical University
James Hendrickson is Vice President of Military Relations at Colorado Technical University. Since 2007, he has overseen the military education department where all military students receive support, resources and educational opportunities to enhance their military careers or prepare for civilian employment. Having served in the armed forces for the past 26 years, a current member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves and veteran of multiple deployments, Hendrickson has first-hand experience with the challenges of being a service member student, earning both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree utilizing military education benefits while serving on active duty. In 2008, he saw a need for educational opportunities for troops who were returning home from the war with life altering injuries. He collaborated with the Yellow Ribbon Fund to create the CTU Wounded Warrior Scholarship program. This year, CTU will award an additional 50 scholarships to wounded warriors and their spouses bringing the total number of awarded scholarships to 250. Connect with James Hendrickson on Twitter @CTUMilitary.