Rob Rennaker: For Military Vets, The College Experience Can Be Isolating | KERA News

Rob Rennaker: For Military Vets, The College Experience Can Be Isolating

Sep 5, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that a million veterans and their dependents have enrolled in college in the last four years. That means a very different college experience for students, professors and administrators.

Rob Rennaker has seen all of those perspectives – he’s a Marine who went back to school after serving in Kuwait, Yugoslavia and Liberia, and he now heads the bioengineering department at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Interview Highlights: Rob Rennaker…

…On the biggest challenges he faced returning home:

"When you come out, you’ve been told the whole time in the service that you’re one of the best, you’re the few, the proud, you’ve got all these awards, you’ve been to all these places, you’ve risen in the ranks…and you come out and nobody recognizes that. Nobody sees any value in the skills that you have, and you start to question yourself. ‘What did I really do?’ and ‘where does my value really lie?’"

…On the difficulties of finding a job after military service:

"[Finding a job] was the most depressing part for me. Separating from service, thinking ‘hey, I’m one of the best mechanics out there, I can fix any helicopter or any aircraft you put in front me,’ but because on my resume, what do I put on there? A leader, a hard-charger, motivated…those are all adjectives that anybody can put on their resume, and my experience at the time, they weren’t looking for helicopter mechanics."

…On the special challenges veterans face when they start college:

"They’re very focused, they have goals and they know where they want to go, but I think they suffer from feeling isolated.

…While men and women coming out of the service are probably struggling, they have to recognize in time, as they rise, those skill sets are going to become extremely valuable to them."