As Mike Ellis, a senior at the University of Kansas (KU), prepares for his upcoming graduation in May 2020, he takes time to reflect on his not so traditional path toward a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from KU School of Business. Before starting his academic career at KU, Mike enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served as a hospital corpsman for five years. As part of Mike’s service to the military, he was deployed for the final two years of his contract. After separating from the service, Mike was eager to begin the next chapter of his life, which included pursuing a college degree. He said that his experiences serving in the military left him with strong leadership skills, but he was still in need of assistance helping him with the transition into life as a college freshman. This is where KU TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) came into the picture.
VUB is a program that assists eligible veterans from all branches of the U.S. Military in their pursuit of educational attainment. The move back into civilian life can be complex and poses many challenges for veterans. This transition can be further complicated for veterans who choose to pursue higher education. Placement tests, specifically for difficult subjects like math, are one of the first hurdles in the college-going process that veterans must prepare for and complete. To assist veterans with this process, VUB provides academic support in the following areas: math, science, composition, literature, foreign language, and computer skills.
The program also helps veterans navigate the college application and financial aid processes. Mike describes VUB as “the catalyst to getting started at KU. You feel pretty dumb coming back to school, but they do a good job of sending you resources and getting you back in the flow of school and studying. VUB was the first huge step to helping me get into college and from there, I flourished!”
Stepping onto a large campus like KU was intimidating at first, but with the help of VUB and their partners at the KU chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA), the feelings of intimidation did not last long. Mike said his college experience was enhanced because of the community he found through SVA. He said he was able to meet other veterans who were also going through a similar transition. “Being older and not able to relate to others on campus was an obstacle. I did come in with life experiences, but they were different.” With support from the community of veterans at KU, Mike realized quickly that what he first saw as an obstacle, was an asset. “Because of my experiences in the military, I am very proactive. I volunteer in class and my positivity spills over to other students. I try to encourage others and be a leader.”
Graduating in May 2020 will be just the beginning of Mike’s journey from a serviceman to a working civilian. When asked what this step means for him, he eagerly exclaimed, “Getting a degree will be a huge deal for me!”. He also mentioned that it is an important accomplishment for his family as well, as he will be the first on his mother’s side to obtain a college degree. Mike’s post-graduation plan is to continue working with his military community through Veterans United Home Loans. Through this work, Mike said he will be coming full circle; he will be serving others like him who have served our country.