11:31 AM

Pausing Isn’t Surrendering - How Two Veteran Students Finished What They Started

Veterans and UST students Tomas Monsalvo and Victoria Ramirez“Every day is a learning day,” said Victoria Ramirez, an Education major that left UST mid-program and came back after serving several years in the United States Navy. “I’ve learned that your teachers can help you encourage others to be more successful.”

Every student that steps onto UST’s campus does so with a common goal in mind: graduation. But for some, that journey is put on hold for a while, some due to family reasons or major life changes. Others take a step back for a different reason: to serve our country in the United States military.

Serving a Higher Purpose

Like Victoria, Tomas Monsalvo, a current UST nursing major, left school to serve 9.5 years in the Army before coming back to finish his degree. Though his time in active duty involved 30 months “in theater,” helping to deploy and maintain a mobile pipeline framework for attack helicopters, ultimately, he realized that attaining a college degree was still in his future.

Returning home, he quickly enrolled at UST, but soon found that the stress of multiple deployments and the loss of close friends in Afghanistan was too much to handle at the time. With the assistance of UST, he decided to take a brief hiatus from school and focus on rebuilding his life. “I knew I would return to UST when time allowed me to do so,” he said.

Taking some time off was exactly what Tomas needed. Re-enrolling in UST, this time with an eye toward a future in nursing, he used the dedication and perseverance that were instilled in him during his time in the military to double down on his studies. He admits that getting accepted into the program wasn’t easy, but it was well worth the effort. He said, “I am now in a place where I am happy and where I have a group of individuals at school that I can relate to.”

Adapting the Military Ethos to Civilian Life

Victoria RamirezThough not the traditional path for most students, both Victoria and Tomas agree that leaving school in the middle of their respective programs was the right move. While Victoria wanted to make a difference, she also acknowledges that it was the best option for her and her family. Serving on active duty allowed for her to pay for school, which Tomas agrees helped alleviate a lot of stress. With that out of the way, both were able to focus solely on their studies and on their lives.

But their time in the military also embedded within them core values that they would use during their time at UST. For Tomas, the first in his family to serve in the military, the Army taught him to value friendship and duty – both ideals that he deploys daily on campus. The support system at UST from both the staff and his peers has helped him develop not only academically, but emotionally as well.

Victoria hopes to transfer this idea of educational leadership that she learned in the Navy and developed further at UST as she uses her degree in education. She has seen the impact that learning can have on an individual, and she wants to play an integral role in developing the next generation of leaders.

Deploying Into Your Future

Tomas MonsalvoNeither would trade their time away from school for anything. For Victoria, leaving school to join the military meant increased opportunities once she returned. For Tomas, leaving meant adjusting his focus so that he was better equipped to handle life in the civilian world. It may take longer than they planned to walk across that stage at graduation, but both of them credit UST and the Veteran Success Center for making the transition in school, out of school and finally back to school, much easier.

“Even though I faced some adversities, I would never change anything about my experience,” Tomas said. For him, success is about using the skills you learn along the way to develop into the best version of yourself. Whether those traits are learned on the battlefield or in the classroom, they all contribute to the success story of your life.