By Kellie Kennedy
Agnieszka (Aggie) Wajda initially pursued dreams of becoming an interior designer, but realized that she had a different calling. She joined the U.S. Navy, which opened her eyes to skills and talents that she didn’t know that she possessed.
Her work in the military also increased her interest in continuing her higher education so that she could achieve her dream of becoming a police officer. In just a few months, Aggie will achieve this dream. Learn more about Aggie’s experience at National Louis University (NLU) and the Veterans Program.
National Louis: What prompted you to enter the military?
Aggie Wajda: I joined the Navy when I was 25 because I wanted to serve the country, and eventually use the GI Bill to pursue my higher education. Before I joined the military, I earned a degree in interior design, but realized that I wanted to contribute to society in a different way. The military seemed like the right choice at the right time. I joined in 2008 and separated from the Navy in 2013. I’m now part of the Individual Ready Reserve Program, which is like an inactive reserve in case of war or general recall.
As a result of terrorist attacks since 2001, I think my generation is inclined to serve our country in some capacity, whether it’s joining the military, becoming a police officer, doctor, etc. I’m currently pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice and hope to be a police officer when I graduate this winter.
Tell us about your role in the military.
In the Navy I was an aviation electrician’s mate, and primarily worked as an electrician on helicopters. I also had other temporary assignments. For example, every sailor has to complete a four-month Temporary Assignment Duty. If you are a part of the ship’s company, which includes all officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel aboard a naval vessel, you most likely will do it in the galley (the ship’s cafeteria) or in the kitchen itself. During emergency drills, I also performed duties of an investigator for a fire party, which included different firefighting drills on board the USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier with more than 5,000 sailors aboard. My goal was to make sure that every sailor was familiar with fire safety procedures in case of a fire on board the ship.
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?
When I entered the military, I knew that I wanted to go back to school and pursue a career in criminal justice. Being a career military person is hard on your family because you’re away for long periods of time. I don’t have children of my own, but was thinking of my future. The military was a stepping stone to my higher education, and an opportunity for me to make a difference.
Why did you choose NLU?
A former professor said that NLU’s Criminal Justice program was really strong. They said that NLU professors have experience in the field, which I really liked.
Have you found that skills you learned in the military, such as leadership, discipline, technical or other skills, transfer well to the college setting? And will transfer well to the workplace?
Before I joined the military, I was a very shy person. I wouldn’t speak in public if I didn’t have to. In the military, I learned skills like self confidence, leadership and discipline. I had to speak up and work with people in the Navy who I had nothing in common with. As a result, I now easily can work in classroom groups. I often take the position of the leader and am comfortable helping others. I also am more disciplined, which helps me get to class on time, and keeps me focused on my studies. As they say in the military, “If you’re early, you’re on time.”
What challenges have you faced as you pursue your degree?
My biggest concern when separating from the military was finding a place to live, and a job. I’ve been extremely lucky to have very supportive parents who have offered for me to stay at their house in Palatine as long as needed. I also found a part-time job at O’Hare Airport, which has been very helpful.
Has NLU’s veterans program been helpful to you, as a military-connected student, as you pursue your degree? If so, how?
I participated in the Google Mentorship Program through the NLU Veterans Program and the Student Veterans of America-Illinois. I went to Google’s Chicago office and was paired with a Google employee. She helped me with my resume, gave me some career advice and answered some questions about making the transition to the full-time workforce. I found the event to be really helpful, and wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for the NLU Veterans Program. I also use the Veterans Lounge on the Chicago campus as a quiet place to study, and I appreciate the guidance and resume help from Paul Knudtson, director of Armed Services Relations, and the rest of the NLU team.
Where do you want to be professionally in five years?
I want to be working as a police officer — ideally in Chicago, but I’m open to other locations.
What advice do you have for other student veterans?
Check out NLU’s Veterans Program as soon as you start classes. I waited a long time, and wish I would have learned more, sooner. The counselors and resources available are fantastic.