After serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy, Pilar Arteaga is preparing for her second act. She returned to Chicago in the summer of 2014 and began attending NLU in the fall. She is on track to graduate in the winter of 2015 with a B.S. in Business Administration. Her 11-year-old son Nathan previously embraced the life of a military child, but has settled in to living in Chicago and excelling in school. Pilar talked with us about why she went into the Navy two weeks after high school graduation, where she traveled and what she plans to do with her degree.
What prompted you to enter the military?
I struggled academically and was having some problems at home when I graduated high school. I decided to enter the military two weeks after my graduation day. I planned to serve for about four years, but that timeframe extended to 20 years.
That’s a long time. Why did you decide to continue?
It got to the point where I actually enjoyed it. The military was supposed to be a stepping stone to becoming an adult, but the more I stayed in, I got into a comfort zone and it got too scary to go out and do anything else. Then I became a mom and it became a stability issue, where I had a stable paycheck and medical coverage for my son. So when you hit the 10-year-mark, you might as well stay in for 20.
What was your role in the military?
I was a logistics specialist. I ordered supplies, managed inventories, issued parts, etc. As I became more senior, I worked in the Quality Assurance division and ordered parts for F-18s. I was stationed in Virginia, Florida and Great Lakes, IL, but I deployed five times on ships that made port visits to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
As you thought about what you would like to do after the military, what was it that led you to the idea of higher education? And what specifically made you choose NLU?
When I decided to retire from the military, I started my job hunt. The Navy offers a transitioning program that helps sailors with resume writing, interviewing, etc., which I pursued. As part of this program, there also was a higher education track that helped sailors find a college that’s right for them, identify what aspects of college are most important, etc. — and that appealed to me. NLU appeared in my college search. The university caught my eye because it was downtown, they had a strong veterans program presence, and they had the degree program that I wanted. I reached out to the NLU Veterans Program with some questions via Facebook, and they responded right away. Much of my work in the Navy transferred into credits at NLU, which was a big bonus.
Have you found that skills you learned in the military transfer well to the college setting?
Before I entered the military, I did not have much discipline, but I gained a great deal of discipline from the military. This skill in particular has transferred to my work as a student veteran. I definitely don’t procrastinate anymore.
NLU student veterans have faced a range of obstacles, such financial need, family problems, PTSD, housing issues, academic stress and more. What challenges have you faced as you pursue your degree?
I am very lucky to have an awesome support team at home. My dad offered for my son and me to live in the apartment above his, which has been a tremendous help. He and my stepmom also watch my son when I’m at school. The biggest challenge that I’ve faced is just returning to academia after being out for nearly 20 years. Gathering the focus to be a full-time student has been challenging, but I’ve had the support to do it.
Has NLU’s Veterans Program been helpful to you, as a military-connected student, as you pursue your degree?
NLU’s Veterans Program has been a very big support to me. The program has offered many, many resources to student veterans including a speaker series, job fair postings, and networking events like “Bridges to Employment” where student veterans networked with potential employers. I also work as a supervisor in the Veterans Lounge on campus, so this work provides me with the opportunity to help other student veterans as well as meet people who visit the lounge.
Have you relied on any particular features of NLU’s Veterans Program?
It’s been very comforting to be a part of the Veterans Program because it’s been a place where I’m not thrust into the civilian world. I’ve been able to meet other fellow veterans to talk about our benefits, resources, what helps and doesn’t help with the transition, etc. The camaraderie has been really nice.
Where do you want to be professionally in five years?
My ideal job is to work in purchasing at a city or state agency like the park district or fire department. I also really enjoy working with veterans, so if I find an opportunity to help other veterans transition, I’d also be interested in that. Ultimately, I want to be at a job that I like in the civilian sector. My son would like to move to Hawaii, but I don’t think that move is very likely.