From soldier to student
Veterans and active duty members of the armed services arrive as students in the College of Engineering with life experiences often unlike many of their peers.
Some have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, others have hands-on experience in roles such as aircraft mechanics, and at least one recently had the responsibility of managing more than 200 subordinates.
This group brings a unique perspective to campus. They’re a little older than the average undergraduate, and they bring a sense of order, respect for others and duty from their military life.
Devon Harris learned important lessons about responsibility, prioritization and professionalism during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps.
It’s something he’s carried forward with him as a student in the College of Engineering, where he knows to treat professors with respect, work hard to accomplish his goals and make time for what’s important.
It was a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when Harris enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served as an F-18 mechanic and ejection seat mechanic before being medically discharged in 2012.
Harris immediately pursued college opportunities, starting classes at Wake Technical Community College just four months after leaving the Marines. With an associate degree from Wake Tech, he enrolled at NC State in the summer of 2016.
“I was always interested in engineering and the STEM fields,” Harris said. “My M.O.S. (military occupational specialty) really solidified in my heart that this was something I’d really be good at and something I’d enjoy doing.”
He chose mechanical engineering for its broad engineering focus, but Harris said he’s not sure yet what he wants to do when he graduates.
For now, he’s focused on working hard in what he calls a challenging program. Like others who have come from the military to the University, he’s balancing a family — with a wife and two kids at home — a mortgage and the responsibilities that come with home ownership, while pursuing his degree.
Harris called his transition to academics at NC State, “seamless,” but said he still searches for the structure and camaraderie he found in the Marines.
NC State’s Student Veterans Association has helped. Though he said he’s only been to a few meetings, Harris feels comfortable and at ease with like-minded individuals.
“It provides a space for veterans to be their uncensored selves without fear of offending sensitivities,” he said. “You have all races, genders, ages — but all with the same mind-set; they’re laid-back but still disciplined.
“It’s a way for other veterans who might be at the University to know that they have some place that they can go and feel comfortable and welcome and deal with any issues,” he said.
Some might look at Tim Moore’s life and think it’s pretty hectic.
He’s enlisted in the Army, has a wife and two children, and is working toward his Master of Science in operations research on a thesis track. But to Moore, who left a command position with the Army where he was responsible for 275 people, life now seems less complicated.
In fact, ask him about the best part of his graduate school experience, and he’ll say it’s the freedom to spend more time with his wife and kids.
He received a scholarship option through the Army allowing him to serve locally for two years while pursuing his degree. Upon graduation, Moore’s scholarship stipulates he spend two to three years teaching at the United States Military Academy, but he’s fine with that as he plans to stay in the Army for 20 years.
Moore selected NC State for its reputation and its proximity to his family in Virginia. He reached out to a friend who was a year ahead at NC State who answered his questions prior to applying. The transition was made even easier for him thanks to NC State’s Veterans Association.
“They do a very nice job,” Moore said, indicating the group reached out before he was even on campus and starting classes. “It was beneficial to me — I can imagine it would be even more beneficial to a younger soldier who was transitioning to academic and civilian life.”
Moore chose to pursue a thesis track, with an interest in tying his research to something that might benefit the military. His research focuses on how to best integrate 3D printing into the Army’s supply chain. Using a computer simulation, Moore determined what size parts can realistically be 3D printed for different echelons in the Army.
He presents his thesis research this spring and will graduate feeling grateful for the opportunities the Army has provided.
“The Army has been good to my wife and I,” Moore said.
In her time in the College of Engineering, Alyssia Hardy has juggled her role as student, member of NC State University’s cheerleading team, wife and active member of the Idaho Air National Guard.
Yes, she’s an active member of the Idaho Air National Guard living in North Carolina. With a husband in active duty in the Army and stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Hardy received special permission to reside in North Carolina and travels to Idaho twice each year for training.
“We did long-distance for nine months because I was working full time (in Idaho),” Hardy said. “You can only do distance for so long.”
She joined the Air National Guard out of high school. Unsure what she wanted to study in college, it offered her the opportunity to pursue something meaningful while she figured out her future.
Immediately following her initial training with the National Guard, her unit was deployed, and she was placed in a full-time technician position. She’d grown up fixing cars in her dad’s garage, and her time in the Guard piqued her interest in electrical engineering.
“It gave me that hands-on experience with how things work,” she said. “Knowing I enjoyed that, I wanted to further my education in that field.”
For all the hard work and dedication she’s put into her engineering degree, she’s equally dedicated to the cheerleading team. She practices three hours a day, three days per week, and attends numerous athletic events, from basketball to gymnastics to football.
“It is a huge time commitment, but it’s always been a passion for me and a sport that I loved,” Hardy said.
It’s also given her a sense of community similar to that of the National Guard.
“Like the military, you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” she said. “Joining a sport at a big university gives you that opportunity.”
Ryan Pollard entered the Air Force in 2003 with a plan to pay for college. But as plans sometimes do, his changed.
“It wasn’t long after being in that I shifted from wanting to go to college to focusing on the career I had,” Pollard said. “Even when I got out, I wasn’t thinking too much about school.”
He served as an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force and continued in aviation maintenance when he got out in 2013.
Then an accident changed his future. He and his wife were traveling on a rural North Carolina road when they were hit head-on by a driver who had fallen asleep.
Pollard broke 19 bones and sustained a traumatic brain injury. After months of physical and occupational therapy and three surgeries, he was told he wouldn’t be able to perform a job like those he’d held previously.
But rather than give up, he created a new plan.
“I then decided to take back control of my future, and use my GI Bill to pursue a degree that relates to my passion and the 10-year career I had in the Air Force,” Pollard said.
In high school, he’d thought about a career in aeronautical engineering. Now, he’s looking toward a higher elevation.
“The 10 years in the Air Force solidified the idea that I do love this industry,” Pollard said. “Despite being comfortable in aviation, I have more of an interest in the space industry — it’s still somewhat unfamiliar to me and very exciting.”
A senior pursing his Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering, Pollard said he’d like to obtain a graduate degree. He’s considering rocket design and propulsion systems, but said his options are open.
The workload has been challenging, but he expected this.
“I’m a problem solver and more often than not if something is very difficult, and I can make it through it, I’ve loved it,” he said. “So far I’m very pleased with the education I’ve received at NC State.”