Tom's Story - A Huge Network
“I’d really like to work in community health,” Tom tells me. Maybe a tribal clinic; he’s worked for one before. Maybe CHAS services. Maybe in public health, like the VA system; he’s familiar with that network, having worked in the military. “You’re typically seeing them on what could really be the worst day of their life,” he says about patient care in military trauma medicine. “When you can help them, treat them, you can be a part of them leaving that experience with a human connection and knowing that someone cares about them. That sort of work is really impactful.” That personal connection has been a driving force in Tom’s life, and it’s a motivator for his future work, too.
Tom gets a lot done in a day. Not only is he a student in the Fall 2019 Nursing cohort at Spokane Community College, but he’s also the Work Study for the Veteran One-Stop center. Oh, and he’s a veteran himself, and a husband and father who lives outside of Spokane.
His workload is pretty impressive, but he says he wants to support his community. “I’ve been given a lot of help, and I want to do that for someone else.”
See, this is Tom’s second time at SCC. He took some general education classes years ago, but he didn’t really have a degree in mind. Then he was deployed for a year overseas. When he got home, he still worked for the military, but he was dissatisfied with the pace of his career. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, and I thought I’d focus on health care.”
He had experience in it, since he’d worked in trauma medicine in the military. So in the winter of 2018, he re-enrolled, registering for classes that he guessed would be good for a career in health care and paying for the credits out of pocket. He still wasn’t accelerating the way he wanted, and he was dealing with the added stress of the cost of his coursework, when another veteran approached him and offered him some advice. “He encouraged me to put a plan together and to use the GI Bill. After that, I transitioned into having an actual degree plan.” Even more than that, this veteran helped him see the support available to him. “I was plugged into this huge network of resources that would help me succeed.”
Tom says that network spreads across Spokane Community College. “There is a seemingly endless resource network at this college. There is always someone else or something else to help you succeed.”
In his current position as the work study at SCC’s Veteran One-Stop center, Tom gets to be a part of that network. He helps military students and their dependents navigate their support and academic eligibility requirements. He pays attention to their goals to make sure they’re on track. He also takes care of the lounge where military students can get coffee, study on the couches, and borrow a textbook from their little library. The books in that library are donated from former students, “for the next group of students,” Tom explains. He also reminds students about the community resources available to them, giving out information and referrals to local organizations.
Tom knows firsthand how this range of support can change a student’s experience.
“For many SCC students, the difference between success and failure in college is often the measure of a few hundred dollars. They can’t overcome it in the moment, and that’s the line, the barrier to success, for many students. For that want of a couple hundred dollars, a lot of students struggle and might have to leave school.”
That’s part of the reason Tom and the other military students try to support each other at the One-Stop center. It offers the military student community a place to connect with people who understand where they’re coming from and can help them get the things they need to succeed. Like the textbook library, donated by students for students.
“The veteran experience is one of a very dense, very tightknit job and community environment,” Tom explains. “That carries over to college. Veterans tend to stay together, because those are the community members who understand your perspective.”
That focus on understanding a person’s perspective, on connecting with them through the difficult times in their life, is what Tom excels at. His patients in the military could sense it. His peers at SCC experience it. And soon, as he enters his nursing career here in eastern Washington, our entire community will benefit from his dedication to supporting and uplifting the people around him.