Re-entry: Brandywine veterans reflect on returning to school after service

MEDIA, Pa. — Jake Fida, an information sciences and technology major at Penn State Brandywine, does not fit the typical student mold. At the age of 18, Fida joined the United States Marine Corps, serving for four years in Djibouti, Kuwait and on a carrier before being honorably discharged from active duty in October 2015.

“I came to Penn State in January 2016,” said Fida, “and I chose to study at Brandywine because it was close to my home. I was originally accepted to University Park, but I had been away for four years, so I wanted to spend time with my family again.”

Fida is one of several veterans at Penn State Brandywine, which was named a Military Friendly School by Victory Media in 2016.

In addition to allowing veterans a chance to learn locally, Brandywine provides veterans with a small-classroom environment, which helps some to ease more confidently into their studies.

“The small classes helped make the transition easier,” Fida said. “I had been out of math classes for four years, so the small classes were a big help in readjusting.”

“I enjoy the smaller class sizes and the respectfulness of the other students,” agreed Donna Massari, a student who served in the United States Navy before beginning her Penn State education. Massari has actually studied at three Penn State campuses — Abington, Brandywine and DuBois — and has found all three campuses well suited to her needs as a veteran.

“Penn State accepts my military naval credits, which is awesome,” said Massari. “I will be graduating debt free.”

Massari enlisted in the Navy to take advantage of benefits for her education. Fida was drawn to the Marine Corps by a desire to mature and explore his future options while seeing the world. After years of serving overseas, both admit that re-acclimating to an educational institution was an adjustment.

However, according to both Fida and Massari, the skills that veterans bring home from service enable them to thrive in the academic world.

“The military taught me discipline, which carries over into my schoolwork,” said Massari. “I realize that I’m committing myself to an education that will last a lifetime.”

“One of the first things you’re told in boot camp is ‘Marines strive to be the best at everything they do,’” Fida said. “If you can take that mindset and apply it to academics or your personal life, you can transcend yourself to end up wherever you want to be.”

In addition to experiencing culture shock, some veterans find themselves stereotyped by others based on popular portrayals of military service.

“A lot of people don’t understand all aspects of serving in the military or being a veteran,” said Fida. “They see what the media projects — the bad parts like PTSD. Then they meet me and I’m not what they expect.”

By getting involved in campus life and working hard in class, however, Fida has found many opportunities to combat misconceptions about veterans among his peers.

“I’ve actually seen some of my friends change their perspective about vets after meeting me,” he said. “The campus can do a lot to ease the transition for veterans, and that starts by understanding that we might have to take things a little slowly at first, but we want this and we’re going to do the best we can while we’re here.”

Penn State Brandywine will recognize its students, faculty and staff who have served in the military at a luncheon on Veterans Day.