“From battlefield to classroom,” UAB honors 44 graduating veterans

For the first time, UAB Veterans Services will present a challenge coin and graduation cord to the veterans who excelled in the classroom.

challenge coinsThe challenge coin recognizes veterans who excel in the classroom with an overall 3.4 or higher GPA.Forty-four graduating veterans will be honored this week by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

UAB Veterans Services will present a challenge coin to the veterans in a ceremony set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, in the Hill Student Center. The challenge coin recognizes veterans who excel in the classroom with an overall 3.4 or higher GPA.

In addition to the challenge coin, all graduating veterans receive a graduation cord.

“This is a symbol of respect, honor, and showing our appreciation for their service to country and for choosing UAB,” said Veterans Services Director Walter C. Stewart III. “This is the first semester that UAB Veteran Services is recognizing the achievement of the university’s graduating veterans excelling in the classroom. Their motto is ‘Coming from the Battlefield … Excelling in the Classroom.’” 

Christopher Sykes, a Marine who served five years in North Carolina, is graduating with a master’s degree in public administration from the College of Arts and Sciences. He says, on Jan. 7, 2015, he was wearing camouflage, and the next day he was in the classroom.

“The transition to me was just a complete 180, going from the military in uniform with your pack, then the next day being in civilian clothes working on an undergraduate degree,” Sykes said. “It was the biggest change in my life — fast-paced to slow, military to college life; it was good.”

Sykes earned his bachelor’s degree in communication in April 2016, and decided to “keep on going,” he said. His plan was to earn a valuable MPA degree and use it in a government job, but he started taking classes and “fell in love” with the nonprofit sector.

“I was fortunate enough to get a job in a nonprofit corporation, where an MPA is the goal,” Sykes said. “I began working with Birmingham Audubon, and I have already received a promotion. It feels like a fantastic accomplishment, going straight into a job and getting a promotion.”

Many of UAB’s veterans are graduating from online programs as well as on campus, Stewart says. Because service members are particularly transient, often moving from base to base, distance learning programs allow troops to study anywhere, Alabama or Afghanistan. Online programs also allow students to study at any time of day, a perk for veterans accustomed to working unconventional hours.

Graduating veterans and future graduates will bring a unique experience to the workforce, such as leadership skills, dependability, quick learning and a hunger to succeed.

Sykes’ advice for veterans considering higher education is to “go for it.” He also encourages veterans to apply for scholarships.

“It is going to help so much in the long run,” Sykes said. “Your career will skyrocket. Get a second bachelor’s degree, get a master’s degree. As a veteran you already stand out, so why not also have a master’s degree?”