Nine and a half years serving with honor as a United States Marine.
One year in a civilian job.
Four years completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration and ministry leadership.
After all of that, Trevecca graduate student John Chandler assumed it would be another two years before he’d be standing in a classroom, leading a class of his own.
But just a few weeks ago, Chandler, who is working toward his master’s degree in teaching at Trevecca, began teaching English at Summit High School in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
“In my head, I had this timeline that said I would have to wait a year or two until I could see the inside of my own classroom where I would teach, but Trevecca helped me realize that I was wrong,” Chandler said. “Not only will I get on-the-job training as an actual, probationary teacher, but because of my service time, I get experience credit for that honorable service.”
Chandler is one of many veterans, veteran spouses and dependents taking advantage of Trevecca’s military benefits, which include a military scholarship and college credit for military experience. The University also participates fully in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Earlier this month, Trevecca received notification that the University has been named a Tennessee VETS Campus. A distinction awarded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), the designation recognizes higher education institutions that allocate resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.
In addition, Trevecca’s Student Government Association recently approved the creation and charter of the University’s first Student Veterans Association chapter, William Bennett Memorial Chapter.
“The Student Veterans Association (SVA) is the best opportunity for veterans at Trevecca to connect and find a sense of belonging,” said Michael Norman, Trevecca veterans service coordinator. “The feeling of belonging, more than anything else, can provide critical motivation to help veteran students get through their first semesters—which, according to the National SVA President Jared Lyons, is the most likely time a veteran will drop classes.”
Chandler understands that well. After enlisting in the Marines in 2006, he completed boot camp and served honorable for nearly a decade, rising to the rank of sergeant. During those years, Chandler was deployed six times, including humanitarian deployments to Haiti and Africa and two separate deployments to Afghanistan.
Chandler and his wife, Lacey, moved to Tennessee in 2015, and he took a job as a manager of heavy equipment at a Middle Tennessee landfill. But it just felt like something was missing.
“I wanted that brotherhood again,” Chandler said. “I wanted that structure again.”
So, Chandler joined the Tennessee National Guard, seeking the camaraderie and family he’d experienced as a Marine. It wasn’t the same.
“It was a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, and I was bleeding out,” Chandler said. “It wasn’t the same as the Marine Corps. The soldiers I served with were great, but I lived two hours from most of them and the duty station, and we saw each other only one weekend a month. My job didn’t understand my motivation or my mission accomplishment mentality.”
Chandler felt a little lost, but an on-the-job injury helped him change course.
“At the end of 2016, I made the best decisions I have ever made besides giving my life to Christ, and marrying my wife, Lacey,” he said. “I went back to school.”
He spent the next few years completing his bachelor’s degree as a small Christian institution in Franklin, Tennessee. When he achieved that goal, he immediately enrolled in Trevecca’s Master of Arts in teaching program. At Trevecca, he quickly learned that the campus community didn’t just care about him as a student, but as a person—and more than that, a veteran.
“Each step of the way, the people who have spoken with me understood that I was not a dollar sign nor was I just a person,” Chandler said. “Having that type of experience comes at a price, though, and they respect that.”
Norman says that’s exactly the kind of environment he is trying to build at Trevecca.
“Trevecca really brings a sense of community into the education experience,” Norman said. “When you need help with something, you don't submit a form. You call your advisor or reach out to the records office. Someone answers the phone or responds to your email and wishes you a good day with a solution to your problem, not another waiting list.”
And while he’s already well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming an educator, Chandler has a little advice for fellow veterans thinking about going back to school, especially at Trevecca.
“I am a fellow veteran, sharing my journey because I care and want you to know that there is at least one veteran you can connect with,” he said. “Trust me when I say that I had and still have an array of service-related battles to overcome in the civilian world. It gets better with hard work and time. I am proof.
“The answer is communication and connection,” Chandler continued. “Communicate with other veterans, veteran services, instructors, family and friends. Silence isn’t strength. Connect with people, not just veterans. Start with Trevecca’s new veteran’s group, Student Veterans of America, then when you start to feel more comfortable with the transition, branch out. You can do this!”
On November 17, Trevecca’s Veteran Services office will host a webinar as part of a series called “At Ease.” Presented by Trevecca, the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Stand Down Tennessee, Capital Financial and Tyler York Real Estate Brokers, the webinar aims to help service members who are planning to work toward a college degree create a plan to make that transition a little easier. Learn more or register.