Jessica James had long been interested in military service but also wanted to attend college. When she learned during a career fair at her high school that she could do both simultaneously, she decided to enlist in the Army National Guard during the summer between her junior and senior years of high school.
“My grandpa was in the military, and my family has always been very patriotic,” James said. “I've always loved the idea of serving for something bigger than yourself.”
She participated in drills as a high school senior but basic training had to wait. Right after graduating, she left for six months of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Once she returned to the Philadelphia region, James chose to attend Penn State Brandywine. She was attracted to the campus in part because of the successful softball program.
“I loved the softball program and the fact that they cared about my academics, not just my athletics,” James said. “I really liked the environment at Brandywine, and I liked that it was small. It felt homey in a way.”
James’ love of sports started at an early age — “I tried every single sport as a kid,” she said, encouraged by her parents to try new things. She played soccer from age 5 until high school and played softball through middle school and high school.
With playing two sports and the military and school, I definitely had to learn how to manage my time, working around classes and figuring out my schoolwork when I have to leave early for a game, or when I'm practicing until 7 at night and have to come home and figure out my schoolwork.
—Jessica James , Penn State Brandywine student
Now in her second year at Brandywine and majoring in psychology, James has excelled on both the softball and women’s soccer teams. In her first softball season, she was one of the team’s leading hitters and led the conference in stolen bases. Although she hadn’t planned to play soccer in college, during her two seasons to date, she was among the top goal scorers.
James was named second team All-Conference and All-American honorable mention in softball last year. She also earned All-American honorable mention in 2022 and first team All-Conference the past two years in soccer, along with being named twice to the conference All-Academic team.
She also supports the activities and community service work of Brandywine’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
“Brandywine Athletics gave me a really close group of friends very early in college,” James said. “It allowed me to meet a lot of new people. And the Commons/Athletic Center is like the home to athletes. If we have free time during the day, we hang out there and we know that there’s going to be people there that we know, so it really gave me a close circle.”
Athletics has also strengthened her time management skills.
“With playing two sports and the military and school, I definitely had to learn how to manage my time, working around classes and figuring out my schoolwork when I have to leave early for a game, or when I'm practicing until 7 at night and have to come home and figure out my schoolwork,” James said.
She also balances her academics and athletics with her National Guard service, which is generally one weekend a month and a few weeks in the summer. James currently trains as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist, preparing to respond to hazardous materials spills or accidents or weapons of mass destruction. She has found her service very rewarding, and she is planning to extend her commitment to the military and switch her focus to an aviation position that would give her flying experience.
James noted that Brandywine faculty have been very accommodating with her schedule, which sometimes involves weekend drills that start on a Thursday or Friday. She also said the financial aid office has been very helpful as she navigates and learns about her VA benefits.