TWC’s VET Initiative helped Navy and Army National Guard Veteran and full-time student Yara Morgan relate her military skills to the civilian sector and expand her professional network.
In observation of Veterans Day 2019, The Washington Center will honor our interns who have served in the military in addition to their academic pursuits, and celebrate our internship partners who host them. The Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) Initiative helps student veterans — like Yara Morgan — translate their unique blend of military and college skills into successful careers.
Navy and Army National Guard Veteran Yara took a risk on what felt like an intriguing adventure. The VET Initiative would be her first trip to D.C., but it resulted in new opportunities, a network of phenomenal mentors who believed in her and new additions to her career goals. Her experience helped her recognize what she has to offer and to get started working on helping others.
What is your name, military branch and years served, school, and major?
I am Yara Morgan. I served four years active duty as an Aviation Storekeeper Petty Officer 3rd class in the Navy and another six years as a Supply Specialist in the Kansas Army National Guard. Currently, I’m a full-time student at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, pursuing my degree as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. My anticipated graduation will be May 2020.
What challenges did you face as a veteran transitioning to civilian student life?
The biggest challenge I faced was financing my education. The Montgomery GI Bill, which was in effect during my service, gave Veterans only 10 years after separation to use or lose their education benefits. I had put off my education to raise my children, so by the time I decided to go to college, my benefits had expired. I was a bit shocked when applying for benefits at my college and was told I did not qualify for any financial aid other than student loans. Despite saving and preparing as much as possible for the life of a full-time student, and even with a couple of Veteran scholarships I received through my school, the financial load was still a major sacrifice. My advice to Veterans and currently serving members is to pursue your education while you are in, or as soon as you separate if possible. Now, with the Forever GI Bill, that urgency isn’t as crucial. It is a huge benefit that allows for a smoother transition.
What most attracted you to the VET Initiative program?
It’s actually kind of funny, I walked by the booth several times at Student Veterans of America National Conference (NatCon) 2019 thinking it was not something that pertained to me. A few weeks later, I received an email from The Washington Center about the VET Initiative program. The more I found out about it, the more excited I was to be part of a Veteran intern cohort and to build on my leadership skills. My college program has summers off and I thought VET would be a great opportunity within my field to get extra experience with clinicals and fieldwork. I emailed Michael Duerr and asked if it was open to older students and if medical internships were available. He graciously responded, let me know about the variety of internships and encouraged me to apply, which I did.
Where did you intern and what did you enjoy most about your internship?
My internship was at Grand Oaks Assisted Living at Sibley Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. It was phenomenal. I enjoyed the staff’s friendliness and appreciated the trust they put in me. I was tasked to create a presentation on occupational therapy safety techniques for residents and brief the private duty aides. I shadowed occupational therapists during their daily therapies in the rehab and dementia departments. As a two-person team made up of myself and a fellow VET Initiative intern, we also streamlined 10 years of patient records, developed and implemented a database to organize and consolidate 230 private duty aides’ information to ensure all credentials were accurate, and created up-to-date medication reports to ensure proper and safe disbursements to residents. Overall, I enjoyed that we were able to make a difference in the areas of productivity and safety.
The VET Initiative made such an impact on me that, upon my return from D.C., I was on fire. VET has given me the confidence to pursue my dream jobs. Had it not been for the encouragement and support from the VET Initiative, I might have been hesitant to pursue those.Yara Morgan
In what ways did your internship contribute to your professional development?
I had the opportunity to attend a variety of events and learned the importance of networking. Those events enabled me to meet many amazing people, including some that were not necessarily in my field, but I consider mentors. They were supportive and willing to give of their time and share valuable information with me. I made great connections, both professional and personal. I also learned to capitalize on my strengths and how to improve my social media presence.
What was the most impactful outcome from participating in the VET Initiative?
Relating my military skills to the civilian sector on a resume was impactful for me. On my previous resumes, I would dismiss my military service by only giving dates of service but not give details of my work. I didn’t really recognize that I was doing it. In preparing for graduation this spring, that will be a game changer for me.
The VET Initiative made such an impact on me that, upon my return from D.C., I was on fire. VET has given me the confidence to pursue my dream jobs. Had it not been for the encouragement and support from the VET Initiative, I might have been hesitant to pursue those prior to this experience. I have shared with anyone that would listen what a great opportunity it was and could be for others. I spoke with our Dean of Students and the Assistant Vice President about The Washington Center. I told our Student Veterans of America (SVA) members about the VET Initiative. I wanted to make sure people were aware, particularly at the community college level where not everyone knows of such opportunities, of its existence. Hopefully, others will pursue it and gain the value from it that I did.
Which skills were you able to translate from the military to your internship? How did this experience help you develop or discover new skills or competencies?
My military skills as a leader and go-getter helped me in the program. In learning from my CliftonStrengths Finder, I was not surprised to discover that my top three were Positivity, Activator, and Learner. I enjoyed learning the positive attributes of these strengths and how to apply them when dealing with others. Applying these skills helped me create my elevator speech and recognize that, as a positive person, there will be times that I might not connect with someone on the level I thought I might. This prepared me to better accept rejection and move on; it was tremendous growth for me. I am now able to use this knowledge and apply it to all aspects of my life: professional, educational and personal. It gives me a better outlook on opportunities.
Were you able to build or expand your professional network? If so, how?
Absolutely! The opportunities we had to meet staff and executives of Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits who were willing to sit with us and get to know us were amazing. I learned that I was using LinkedIn wrong all these years. I was able to overhaul that and learned how to connect with the right people, how to be the right connection for someone else. It wasn’t just on social media, either. I was able to connect face-to-face with many professionals from various fields, gaining mentors and friends.
How has the VET Initiative helped shape or impact your career goals?
Wow, where do I start? I went in focusing on my current degree and career goal. I left D.C. with the courage to pursue another career on top of my 19 years as a personal trainer and my future as an occupational therapy practitioner. While in D.C., I had various mentors who encouraged me to become a life coach or mentor. At first, I laughed about it, like “Me? Why? No way,” especially as I joked that “the reason I am even back in college to finally get a degree is so I do not have to work three jobs.” However, when you are blessed enough to do what you love as a career, how can you say no? I want to help as many people as I can live their best lives and believe absolutely in themselves. I will now be adding certified life coach to my list of career goals.
What advice would you give other student veterans who are considering applying to the VET Initiative?
I would say GO FOR IT! Be open to opportunities for growth. Change can be scary, but being stagnant is worse. Usually, we don’t make a change due to fear. We’d rather stay where we know we won’t fail. Failure isn’t fun, but it gives us the most opportunity to see what we are made of. I had never been to D.C., didn’t know anyone there, and wondered about failing. By the end of my internship, I got comfortable navigating my way around and I did not fail. I succeeded above and beyond my hopes. Most surprisingly, I fell in love with D.C. and am considering moving there. I never would have known that if I had not taken a chance on the VET Initiative.
The Washington Center's Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) Initiative offers student veterans a path to demonstrate the skills and experience acquired from their service and make significant contributions in the civilian world. If you’re a student veteran looking to apply your skills in the civilian professional world, learn more about the VET Initiative here.