GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Going back to school can be overwhelming for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for veterans.

“As you’re exiting the military, they do tell you about the fact that you have resources, but as you go along, you realize you know less and less,” Sierra Mesick said.

Both of Mesick’s parents were in the U.S. Army. From a young age, she knew she wanted to serve. 

“I originally thought I was going to go to college first. When I didn’t have that option, I decided to join before anything else,” Mesick said.

Sierra Mesick served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army from 2013 to 2019. (Courtesy)

Mesick served as an intelligence analyst in the Army from 2013 to 2019. When her term was up, she knew she wanted to go back to school, but when she started doing some research, she quickly got discouraged.

“It actually took me a couple years to get up the guts to even apply because most colleges previously had told me I wouldn’t even get in, even with my military experience,” she explained. 

Eventually, she learned about Grand Valley State University’s Veteran Promise. The program was announced on Veterans Day 2020 by GVSU President Philomena Mantella.

The program guarantees admission for anyone who has served two years of active duty or six years in the reserves or National Guard whenever they’re ready to attend.

“I think it’s so important to recognize those who have served our country,” Mantella said. “It really says to students, ‘We know you’re leaving in good standing and we know you’re getting great experience and if you leave the military in good standing, you have a promise of admissions.'”

“Grand Valley has really put a stake in the sand when it comes to serving veterans,” veteran Jill Hinton-Wolfe said.

Hinton-Wolfe also served in the Army for three years. She is now the university’s military and veterans resource manager.

“We have this great pool of diverse leaders just waiting to be asked to step up and use their military skills, combine it with a liberal arts education and go out into the world and lead our nonprofits, our companies, our government agencies,” she said. 

It goes beyond simply getting into college.

“We want the veterans to be part of all the things that we have going on in campus, but there is something to be said about having a space where you can come and people have shared that same experience that you have shared,” Hinton-Wolfe said.

GVSU has two of those spaces: one veterans resource center on the main campus and one inside the Center for Interprofessional Health in Grand Rapids. Those areas can help veterans who have been out of school for years escape the often stressful nature of a college campus and connect with other student veterans.

The veterans resources require a lot of support. 

“We have a lot of nonprofits that we work with, but it’s really the Secchia family really kickstarted this program and allowed us to do all this amazing work,” Hinton-Wolfe said. 

The work has received national recognition. Many schools are developing similar programs to support veterans like Mesick.

“The fact that I am older, I know what I want; I may not know what major I want, but I do know that I want to succeed,” Mesick said.

Her message to other veterans: It’s never too late to go back to school.

“I’ve been out of school for over 10 years and if anybody wants a higher education, even if it’s not Grand Valley, just do it,” she said.