Amanda Irish, UI Veterans Association

Amanda Irish

Photo by Tim Schoon.

Shortly before the terrorist attacks of 2001, Amanda Irish had considered enlisting in the Marine Corps after high school. Not only did she admire the distinguished dress and environment of the Marine Corps, but also the honor and respect that came with serving her country.

On Sept. 27, 2001, Irish enlisted in the Marines. She felt that “this country was founded on the blood of those who went before us,” and saw a lot of appeal in serving and knowing she did something good.

Irish received a B.A. in international studies from the UI in May 2009, and a Master’s in Public Health in epidemiology in 2010. She is pursuing a B.S. in human physiology and pre-medicine. Her love of what she would come to know as epidemiology guided her toward serving as a nuclear, biological, and chemical defense specialist in the Marines.

Irish spoke with fyi about the challenges of being a veteran on campus, how faculty and staff can engage veterans, and why joining the military was a risk worth taking.

What are the typical challenges faced by many veterans in higher education?

The primary challenge is the transition from serving in the military to being a student. You are shedding a former way of life. Even if you were in school before you joined the military, there is still an adjustment period. There are mental health challenges—many people struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and oftentimes it’s not addressed by the person, diagnosed, or treated. Sometimes this leads to other difficulties in the ability of service men and women to transition successfully, such as self-medicating—alcohol abuse is prevalent among veterans. Other times it’s just adjusting to a new way of life, buying or renting a home, registering for classes, and fitting in. Being a member of a Guard or reserve unit can be especially challenging, particularly if the call to deploy comes midsemester.

The primary goal of the UI Veterans Association and the Registrar’s support staff is to ensure veterans graduate, but we are so much more than that. We are here to help veterans succeed, not only academically but socially and professionally as well. Our all-veteran staff knows what it’s like to be four or more years older than your peers, and have a wealth of life experience that many non-veterans simply can’t relate to, and that’s where the social support aspect of the UI Veterans Association really comes into play.

What is the best advice for faculty and of staff in helping veterans adjust?

Most veterans do not self-identify; therefore, many professors may not realize that they have student veterans in their classrooms. When one thinks of a veteran, the image is of someone older, typically male. In reality, there are many young male and female veterans on college campuses nationwide. Given that we have more than 500 veterans enrolled at the UI, professors should assume there are student veterans in their classes and with that knowledge be empathetic to the student body as a whole, as I expect they would naturally do.

A few of my favorite things…

Gluten-free pizza

Vanilla Coke

Lunch at Short’s

The books Walden, The Hot Zone, and The Red Badge of Courage

Alternative, indie, post-rock, punk, rock, and metal music

The movie The Last Temptation of Christ

The TV shows House and The West Wing

Reddit

Iowa Hawkeyes and Green Bay Packers

 

Veterans Day events

Public invited to UI Veterans Reception Nov. 9: fyi.uiowa.edu/11/04/ui-veterans-reception

Veterans share experiences through unique theatre show: fyi.uiowa.edu/11/04/telling-iowa-city

If a student veteran does reach out to a professor, the professor should do whatever he or she thinks will assist the student, even if that’s simply putting the student in contact with myself, the UI Veterans Association officers, the Veterans Center, or Office of the Registrar support staff on campus. We hope to be the place student veterans can go for help with any problems they are having. Ultimately, the goal of professors and the university support staff is to ensure all students—not just veterans—graduate and go on to lead productive lives as contributing members of society.

As president of the UI Veterans Association, what are some changes you have implemented for this year?

After a lot of planning, we held the first-ever student veteran orientation this fall. We wanted to make sure all incoming student veterans were aware of the services offered to them. Aside from the many benefits offered through the university, there are a wealth of community and federal resources available to veterans. If there are services we don’t offer, we put veterans in contact with people who do. The orientation was a huge success and we gained many new members.

We’re also looking at doing more fundraising; larger, campuswide events; and developing the UI Student Veterans Association “brand.” To do this, we’ve designed t-shirts and hats to advertise our presence on campus. The idea is to get veterans to see other veterans on campus so they can connect.

If you had to choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

This is hard, but I’d say driven. I’m constantly pushing myself to complete the next challenge and to further my goals. I’m also incredibly passionate about the goals that I’ve set for myself, while also being very loyal and supportive to those around me.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?

Joining the military was a huge unknown, especially enlisting right after 9/11. But to be honest, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the military—the doors it’s opened for me and the financial support that it has provided for me throughout my academic career.