Thursday, October 6, 2011

Connecticut brother and sister duo strike the college-military balance

Not only are they going to college, but they are also serving in the military. Meet David and Jessica Aldarondo, a brother and sister duo from Waterbury, Conn., who have struck the college-military balance, looking to earn their degrees online from Post University while also serving in the U.S. Army.

We interviewed the siblings recently to learn more about what it's like to serve in the military while going to college. You can read our Q&A below.

For some background, David is a junior at Post University, studying computer information systems. He's also a truck driver in the Army Reserve. Jessica is a sophomore at Post University, studying human services. She's also a chaplain's assistant in the Connecticut Army National Guard.

After talking with David and Jessica, it sounds like balancing a military career with an educational career is more manageable than many might think -- but, as they told us, a lot of that is because they're attending Post University.

For example, they talked about how supportive their instructors are when it comes to their military schedules and deployment requirements. In fact, David transferred to Post University from another school, and according to him, "Words can't describe how much better the instructors at Post are than a lot of the public institutions out there."

For Jessica and David, Post University has been a perfect match. It's easy to see why when you read through our interview. Scroll on for their story and experience -- a slice of life of two American youths living out their collegiate and military dreams.

Thank you, Jessica and David, for spending time with us, and thank you for your service to our country.

Janelle: Hi, everyone. I am Janelle Kozyra. And today, I am joined by a brother and sister duo, Jessica and David Aldarondo. And as you can see, they're both in the military, so a little thank you goes out to them for all of their support for our safety and our defense in this country. Jessica and David, it's good to have you with us today.

David: Thank you for having us.

Jessica: Thank you.

David: It's a pleasure to be on.

Janelle: So Jessica and David are two students at Post, so what we want to do just to start is Jessica and David, why don't you tell us where you're from and where you grew up.

David: I guess we're both from Waterbury now, Waterbury, Conn. We weren't always from Waterbury. We were from the southern side of the state at one point, but we're in Waterbury now, been here for a while and we've both lived here at least three or four years.

Janelle: And so are you two pretty close to each other?

Jessica: Yeah.

David: I think so. I definitely think so. Our relationship is more like best friends, almost, because we have always been in the same grade as long as I can remember, the same classes except for high school. And now in college, here we are again, and we'll be able to collaborate because we have similar classes and similar professors. And actually, we have several classes together again and we have a really close relationship, so that really helps with our studies and everything.

Janelle: So how old are you and what's the age difference?

David: I'm 20.

Jessica: I'm 21.

David: And it's a year and two months difference.

Janelle: Okay, so you are very close. So tell us what you are each doing in the military, then.

David: Well, to be honest, she joined first.

Jessica: I joined March of 2008, straight out of high school. I did JROTC before that and I liked it, so I enlisted. I took the ASVAB in April of 2008. I left for Arkansas in March of 2008 and I left for basic October of 2008.

David: And I actually just joined. I've been in it about a year now. And I joined last October, and I did it particularly because she joined and we like to do everything together. It's just the way our family does everything.

Jessica: Yeah.

Janelle: So then what are each of you doing right now in the Army?

Jessica: I'm a chaplain assistant. I work for the chaplain. He's a major. I kind of do grief counseling, suicide prevention forces. I go to different units and I talk to the soldiers, make sure everything is good with their families and everything. And I set up for religious services.

Janelle: Great.

David: And I'm in a transportation unit based out of Fairfield, Conn. We run the transport fuel and we just got back from two weeks of training in Virginia. We just transport fuel all over the East Coast and that's primarily what we do. We do other things, but mainly transport fuel.

Janelle: Great. So, Jessica, you said you joined right after high school. So why did you want to join the service?

Jessica: I did JROTC in high school, and my sergeants and the colonel that I worked with, Sergeant Rowland, from Crosby, they were just such great people and they educated me a lot on the military and the benefits. It was to me like there was really a lot of reasons why I joined. One of them is college. They helped pay for my college tuition. Another reason was to meet people, to get an understanding of the military. Those are just a few reasons I enlisted.

Janelle: Great. And David, you said just because you're close with your sister? And what were some of your big reasons why you wanted to join the service?

David: Well, as I said, my sister had joined. I had always wanted to join. Just as a kid you grow up idolizing soldiers and what they do, and I always wanted to join and I couldn't really bring myself to do it. And so she did it, and then I felt comfortable and I went ahead and did it.

Janelle: Great. So then where does Post come into play? I guess Jessica, for you, obviously it was after you joined the military and, David, what happened on your end?

David: On my end, I was already in college. I was in a different college, and I wanted a school that understood military students a lot better. Understood the fact that I may have to leave for a year while I'm in the middle of taking courses. And my sister had been looking at Post, and my mom had also looked at Post for us, and she told us about the military program. I thought it was a great idea and I transferred.

Janelle: So for you, David, what was it specifically about the way that Post supports military students that made you decide that Post was the right spot for you?

David: Well, I have some really awesome advisors. I have a really awesome tuition planner, all of whom are primarily focused on military students and are able to help us with GI Bill tuition assistance. And they can help us in our classes and they told us that if we ever need to deploy, just call them up and let them know and let our professors know, and they'll work everything out with us. There were a lot of reasons.

Jessica: One of the reasons on what I liked at Post was because they were such a big point for the military out there. When their students are overseas, they tell you they work all the time with kids that are overseas, and help them graduate and get their degrees. And I think that's just great because there's going to come a time when David and I are going to deploy, and it does cross your mind when you go overseas, like how am I going to finish my degree? How am I going to be able to do college and be overseas at the same time? And they kind of just put it out there that we have people that can help you, we've had students that have graduated from Post that are overseas. So that's kind of the big thing, their military program that they have.

Janelle: And so what year are both of you now at Post?

David: I am a second semester junior because I took some time off to join the Army. I'll be graduating in December of 2012.

Janelle: Okay.

Jessica: Second-semester sophomore.

Janelle: Great. And what are you each studying now?

David: I'm studying computer information systems and ...

Jessica: I'm in human services.

Janelle: Human services, got it. So just going to Post -- because you're seeking military benefits, things that are going to support your goals to do what you want to do in the military, but also your educational goals. So how did you see that Post gave you that balance that you were looking for, and how is Post providing that balance for you?

David: Well, to start off, the way you guys have your semesters or your modules set up. You only take two classes at a time, which gives you spare time to work, to do things that are related to the military and, since they're online, I can do my military school and do my college coursework at night when I have some free time and I think that's awesome. Even while I'm deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq, or wherever they send me, I can work on it over there and continue with it and achieve both my goals to have a good military career and have a good civilian career.

Janelle: How about for you, Jessica?

Jessica: It's kind of the same as he said. It's balancing roles. It gives you a chance to go to school and do your military stuff and even work, unless you're deployed. You would still be working, but you don't have the stress of how am I going to get this done, when am I going to do it?

Janelle: And I understand you were both going to Post main campus initially, and then you've transitioned to their online education institute. So why did you decide to transition to the online program?

Jessica: I found out that I'm deploying May of 2013, so I thought, I'm in my sophomore year now, and when I do deploy I don't want to stop my college. I want to continue.

David: And when she found that out, I figured that the same could happen to me. I may not get as much war in, but I might as well set myself up to be prepared to deploy and at the same time continue my education.

Janelle: So that's really your crucial goal here, is to just not have a disruption in your education, even though you are going to be overseas?

Jessica: Yes.

David: Exactly.

Janelle: So what do you like about the online program and learning online?

David: One of my favorite things about the online program is meeting people from all over the country, and not just the country, but all over the world. I met a bunch of people in my math class that are actually from California, and they're actually in the military stationed over there. And we had some good conversations and talked about our different life experiences over on the East Coast and over on the West Coast. And it's meeting people from other places is awesome and studying with them because they always have a different perspective on everything whether it be math or class, they always have something new and interesting to say.

Jessica: And I have met so many people. When I first started doing the online, I was meeting so many people that were in the military doing online at Post that were from Connecticut, they were from all over, soldiers overseas, and people that were in just other states. And it was great to know that it's worldwide.

Janelle: So it sounds like, then, the online approach is really ideal for people who are in the military and supporting what they want to do in the military, as well as what they want to do educationally.

David: Yeah, I think so. I think of the military as a job or a career as well as civil service, but it's also your job, it's a career. And if you want to pursue your career and you want to pursue an education at the same time, then taking less classes per month -- even though at a little faster pace -- taking less classes each time allows you to juggle a little bit less, and do a little better. And I think it's perfect for people that are in the military.

Janelle: Were you ever concerned, though, about how you could possibly make ends meet? Because you're in the military and then you also have your educational goals. Did you ever get to a point where you were like, overwhelmed with what you wanted to do and felt that is there any way that this is going to happen?

David: No, I can't say that. I mean, it may have crossed our mind every now and then, but I have a really strong support system and that just helps you get through the day. As I said, we're always here for each other, especially when it comes to school. We review each other's papers, help each other out with homework, and then she's always got awesome advice for me military-wise because she's been in a lot longer than I have.

Jessica: Actually I chose my MLS, my job, to go with my military job, because with human services, you could do counseling, you could do so many things. And what I do when I work with the chaplain, we do group counseling, we do counseling, we work with people. So it's not a loss because I can just connect, pull it together. I can do my 10 years in the military and have my degree and use my degree towards my job.

Janelle: What do you think about Post instructors?

Jessica: I think they're wonderful. They're very helpful, and most of the instructors that I have are really good.

David: As I said, I transferred from another school. I'm not going to say which school, but I've had a much better experience with the instructors at Post -- especially being military. I left in November of last year for basic training and I was still finishing out that semester. Well, all of my professors told me finish it on time and get a grade for it, get a good grade for it. And words can't describe how much better instructors at Post are than at a lot of the other public institutions out there.

Janelle: What do you think makes them so much better? What is it about the way they teach or their attention that really makes them stand out?

David: One is understanding towards military students that sometimes we have other obligations.

Jessica: They're very understanding.

David: And with their teaching style, I guess it has a lot to do with they can really teach when they have time, also, so that they can put all their attention toward it. And every single professor I've had has seemed so focused toward my education as well as their teaching.

Janelle: Great. So what are each of your plans, then, for graduation? I think you mentioned earlier when you're planning to graduate. So what happens after that?

David: Well, hopefully I'll have a job right out of school. You never know what's coming down the road, but hopefully there's a job as soon as I get out of school. I guess there's several concerns. I do want to pursue my military career further, but I think I'm going to do reserves for now and worry about my civilian career for now.

Janelle: And Jessica, what about for you?

Jessica: I'd have to say my plan is to graduate and go for my masters. And then finish off my 10 years in the military. I want to make it into a career, possibly go active, and see how everything goes. But for right now, that's my plan.

Janelle: So you're thinking of a master's in human services?

Jessica: Yes, in psychology.

Janelle: Do you think you would consider Post for that, based on your experience so far?

Jessica: Yes, definitely.

Janelle: Great.

David: And I also plan on getting my master's degree and continuing in the same school because, as I said, the advisors are awesome here. They help out so much that it takes a lot off my shoulders.

Janelle: Great. Good to hear you have a positive experience, Jessica and David, so thanks for joining us today. Appreciate you checking in with us.

David: Thank you for having us. We really appreciate talking with you.

Janelle: And thank you, again, for your service to our country.

If you're thinking about attending college while serving in the military, what questions do you have about it? Or, if you've had this experience, what advice would you give to others who are interested in pursuing it?