CCV’s veterans service coordinator Kyle Aines was at the NASPA symposium last month, a nationwide conference for veteran and military student affairs professionals, when he heard a familiar voice—he’d never met CCV alumnus Judd Eichorst in person, but they’d built a friendship over their many phone conversations while Kyle was helping Judd get started at college.
Judd, who grew up in upstate New York, served in the military as an air force meteorologist. After leaving the service he worked a full-time job for a few years, which he describes as “really unfulfilling, and had limited opportunity for advancement.” So he started to think about using his GI bill to go back to school.
Judd was interested in CCV because “I knew that community college would help me figure out what the next steps were.” He connected with Kyle before ever stepping foot inside the Bennington academic center. Kyle is part of the College’s veterans services team, which provides comprehensive support to hundreds of veteran and military-connected students every year. Judd says for many veterans, the process of applying to college can be overwhelming. “Veterans are not prepared for college out of the military—not because of academics, but because the military does a poor job transitioning them. They’re only told basically what their benefits are and how they might use them. But veterans basically have no idea how that process actually goes.” At CCV, he had one-on-one support through every step. “Kyle was the first person I talked to at CCV…He was just so helpful in helping me navigate what at the time was a very clunky and outdated system…he was pretty instrumental in my decision to come to CCV.”
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That decision was not without apprehension. As a first generation college student, Judd says it was difficult to find guidance from his parents, simply because they hadn’t been through it themselves. Before starting classes at CCV-Bennington, “I had no idea what to expect. I was actually kind of afraid I would not be prepared enough because it had been so long since I’d been in a traditional classroom…I was afraid of not being able to keep up with the work.” But those fears were quickly allayed.
“When I got there, the level of instruction that I got was just incredible, and the attention to each student and their individual needs was really powerful.” He discovered a love of writing. He says his writing courses were “an area where I could be vulnerable in a safe environment. And at that time I didn’t really have that type of outlet, and I’d say a lot of people lack that kind of outlet, so that was also pretty powerful. And then that was what initially made me think differently about education and what that experience could be like.”
As a veteran, Judd worried about how his military experiences would be perceived by classmates. “I was kind of scared because I was afraid that people would make a lot of awful assumptions about me, and I found the experience to be the exact opposite, especially from faculty. I thought that faculty would be very averse to me talking or writing about certain topics.” For example, he wanted to write about using marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress, but worried that it would be too controversial. “And I also remember writing assignments that were certain things about my military experience that were either humorous or pretty dark and I would think, ‘can I really offload this on my peers?’” Again, he was surprised by what he found at CCV. “There was never an issue with it. At all. There was no issue. People were just trying to get their education, just like me. They weren’t there to judge, and they weren’t there to make any assumptions about me.”
After earning his associate degree in 2015, Judd went on to Southern Vermont College (SVC), where he decided to pursue the love for writing he’d discovered at CCV. While completing his BA in English, he worked in the registrar’s office at the College. He knew graduate school was his next step, and he was thinking seriously about the arts. But a supervisor in the registrar’s office said to him, “you know, you really like helping students…you know people get degrees in this, right?” An advisor at SVC had earned her PhD in writing from Michigan State University (MSU), and recommended their College of Education. “I scrambled to put together an application in like five days,” Judd recalls. “I had no idea what I was doing—nobody in my family knew how any of this worked either. I applied and I thought, ‘I don’t know how somebody with my educational background will ever get in. But I did.’” He visited, took a tour, and fell in love.
This spring, Judd is closing in on his master’s in student affairs. Throughout his studies at MSU he’s also held down a job as an assistant community director at a residence hall, where he’s responsible for the 850-1,000 undergraduate students who live there. Best of all, the job means that 90% of his tuition is covered.
In addition to his studies, Judd is an active member of the veteran community at MSU. He’s involved with the University’s chapter of Student Veterans of America (which, he notes, has a female president, “which is increasingly important in today’s political climate.”) He’s an advisor for the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education program, helping incoming veteran students in orientation programs. He’s also newly involved with the Minority Veterans of America. “While I’m not a minority status,” he says, “I’m trying to be a good ally.”
Right now, he’s in the midst of his job search, looking for a position in which he’ll get to continue supporting veterans—especially minorities—in higher education. At the NASPA conference, for example, he attended all of the workshops he could about women’s experiences in the military. He was pleased to find that the number of those sessions offered at the conference had grown nearly fourfold since last year. He hopes his work will help him give a voice to veterans and military-connected students who aren’t being heard. “Who is being excluded?” he says. “In every single paper I write at this point I’ve said the same thing: who speaks, who listens, and why? Who is not being included in the conversation? That’s what matters most to me.”