Juggling school and service

Juggling school and service

by Hannah PickettStaff Writer

Imagine being the first person in your family to juggle the course load of a college student and then spend your weekends serving your country. For freshman Kristina Kelehan, she doesn’t imagine it, it is the very premise of her life.

As a first-generation student at Simpson College, Kelehan has accomplished more than the typical freshman. When she was a junior in high school, Kelehan enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard at the age of 17.

“It was something that I felt I was supposed to do,” Kelehan said. “It was my way of serving my country and my community, my way of helping out and doing my part by being there helping and serving.”

Kelehan was a member of the JROTC in high school and said she loved the experience, which is what ultimately peaked her interest in joining the National Guard. At the same time, she also wanted to go to college.

“I have always wanted the experience and the chance at having a career I really enjoy,” Kelehan said. “I love learning. My family jokes that I would be in school my whole life if I could.”

Kelehan’s service in the Iowa Army National Guard as a specialist altered traditional post-high school plans.

So, she postponed college for three years while she was in training and working full time at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

Now her time commitment is much less, with just one weekend each month in training and a few weeks during the summer.

Enlisting in the military entitles individuals to a tuition break, which Kelehan says has been a big plus, but is not the reason she joined.

“I do have (financial) help from the Guard but it by no means pays my tuition in full,” Kelehan said. “The Guard will help you pay tuition up to the full amount of a state college. I think there have been a lot of service members taking advantage of this, and I know several who have joined solely for that reason.”

Kelehan says Simpson’s staff, especially Student Support Services, has been very accommodating in helping her as a first generation student and understanding of her weekend military commitments.

“Our office does many things to help first generation students,” Wendy Robinson, director of Student Support Services, said. “Some of our services include: free school supplies, scholarships to do graduate school visits and applications, book grants, one-on-one appointments with our staff, workshops and supplemental instruction. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. We do a lot.”

With the rough economic times, college isn’t necessarily a viable option for all people. Kelehan wouldn’t be surprised if more people enlisted to cash in on the education benefits.

“I think with our economy over the last year or two and with the enlistment rates of the military in general, it shows that the financial help is a big incentive and will continue to be,” Kelehan said.

While Student Support Services helps first generation students, the Registrar’s office works with veteran students to ensure education funds through the United States’ Government.

Currently, there are 38 students on campus who receive Veterans Affairs’ benefits, 14 traditional and 24 part-time students, according to Rhonda Pooley, assistant to the Registrar.

“I only have five students that are traditional students and still with the National Guard,” Pooley said. “Most are older than the traditional Simpson student (older than 25). Kristina is the exception.”

Breaking the mold in more ways than one, Kelehan says the military has taught her a lot about life and made being a first-generation-college student easier.

“The military has taught me a lot about who I am, what I’m capable of and where I can go in life,” Kelehan said. “Nothing is impossible as long as I work hard and never give up.”