Kevin Davis and Brittany Rothrock
Season 4 - Episode 422
Baylor is regularly mentioned among the top 50 “Best Colleges for Veterans” by U.S. News & World Report, and the VETS Program is a big part of the reason for that ranking. Veteran Education and Transition Services (VETS) is a Baylor program that promotes the academic success of veterans at Baylor, providing a variety of resources to help them successfully transition to college life. In this Baylor Connections, Kevin Davis, VETS Program Manager and a Marine Corps veteran, and Brittany Rothrock, a rising senior engineering major and Navy veteran, take listeners inside the veteran experience at Baylor, sharing both the challenges and the meaningful ways veterans contribute to the Baylor student body.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. Today we're talking VETS, Baylor VETS. Veteran Educational and Transition Service, better known in shorthand as Baylor VETS, is recognized for its service to those who serve the nation. Promoting the academic success of veterans at Baylor University, VETS provides an array of resources to veterans to help them successfully transition in different stages of college life, and provides community for student veterans as well. Kevin Davis serves as VETS Program Manager. A Marine Corps veteran, he brings an understanding of the unique challenges veterans face in transitioning from military service to higher education. We're joined by him, as well as Brittany Rothrock. Brittany Rothrock is a rising Baylor senior engineering major, and Navy veteran. She served as a nuclear electrician on the USS Carl Vinson, from 2007 to 2013. Again, in 2020, Baylor was named one of the top 50 best colleges for veterans by Us News and World Report. And the VETS resources are a big part of that, and great Baylor students and someday alumni like Brittany are a big part of that story, as well. So Brittany, Kevin, appreciate you joining us today. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm excited to get to hear from both of you as the head of the program, and a student in the program. Get some unique perspective.
Kevin Davis:Well, thanks for having us. This is awesome, able to share these awesome stories of our student vets, and to have Brittany here with us, absolutely.
Brittany Rothrock:Yes, thank you for having us.
Derek Smith:And as we're actually recording a few days ahead of when this airs, Brittany, is actually preparing to begin an internship that aligns with her engineering major. So Brittany, we're excited for that for you and hope you're enjoying it when this show airs, and appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule as you get ready for that.
Kevin Davis:Well, what's-
Brittany Rothrock:Thanks, I am really excited for that.
Derek Smith:Well, it'll be great. You'll have to share with us how it goes, and I'm sure you'll bring a lot of great experience to that, as we talked about. I'm going to ask you more about your role as a nuclear electrician, but let's zoom out a little bit and talk about the VETS program, and what it offers. And Kevin starting with you, as a veteran yourself, what drives you as you lead the VETS program, as you shape it? And as you work with our student veterans, like Brittany and others, on campus?
Kevin Davis:Yeah. So, Derek as you know, I was a student veteran at Baylor here myself, back in 2012 is when I graduated, which coincided with the year that our founder of the VETS program, Dr. Janet Bagby, started this program. And started researching and asking the questions, to eventually develop this. And so, I know pre VETS program, what it was like to be a student veteran on campus. And so, with that experience, and honestly, feeling like... I wasn't sure that there was any other student veterans on campus, before, when I was here in 2012. And so, the awkwardness of that transition was challenging. But, so thankful for the work of Dr. Bagby. And I remember her first email, she sent out, asking our veterans to come and collaborate in a meeting to see, "Hey, what's the best way to serve our vets on campus?" And just even having that email being like, "Oh, there's more of us?" Was just so reassuring to me, that, "I'm not alone." And so, because we're all non-traditional students and I was, likewise, I wasn't able to go to that meeting because I was working full time, while going to school here. But just having that email, and then, what launched from that conversation and Dr. Bagby's work. And then ultimately, my starting here full time. As Baylor said, "You know what? We want us to be a full-time position, at Baylor." And then, my starting in 2016, that's been really a big part of what drives me. And just knowing that, we have these amazing voices and perspectives on our campus, that bring so much value and assets to our classrooms and to our community. And just integrating that strategically within all these conversations is really where I derive a lot of my motivation, and what excites me.
Derek Smith:That's great. So at five years for you, leading this program. I'm glad you mentioned Dr. Bagby too, because her passion for this program was really palpable, in visiting with her in the early days. For sure.
Kevin Davis:Yeah. Oh, yeah. She's awesome. When she knocks on a door, you answer. And she was definitely the strong vision, behind what we're doing now.
Derek Smith:Well, Brittany, I wanted to ask you, as a part of this program. How would you describe the VETS program, to someone who was unfamiliar with it?
Brittany Rothrock:I would say it's a connection point for vets and their dependents to get acquainted with the community. And, it's not just for education. It's actually to help you transition in everyday life, too. So if there's anything you're needing to do, to get benefits or get healthcare, anything that a veteran needs. This is where we could go, being part of Baylor, to get all the help that we need. To get direction to what it is, we want to do.
Derek Smith:You mentioned getting help in different ways. Kevin, I'll jump back to you. Could you just give us an overview of some of the resources, briefly, that VETS offers our student veterans?
Kevin Davis:Yeah, so really, VETS is looking at the whole Baylor experience and we have all these amazing programming and support. And we don't really need to reinvent the wheel, a lot of times, we just tweak the wheel a little bit to uniquely and strategically and intentionally, serve our military connected students. And it starts with our amazing people over in our Certifying Office, here at Baylor, certifying VA education benefits, with Jessica Alford and Debbi Parker and Kyle Yates. And, that offices is expanding here, soon. I think it's safe for me to say that, as we're adding a couple individuals there, to that office. And so, they address the access and affordability means, and the amazing participation that Baylor chooses, and elects to participate as a Yellow Ribbon School, which means that our VA Benefits, if they're a hundred percent eligible for the post 9/11 GI Bill, that education benefit component, a hundred percent of their tuition and fees are covered here at Baylor. And so, what that allows is for us to open the door to this awesome population of students, who may not have considered Baylor previous to that. And so, the diversity that we bring and through that, 60% of our students are first-generation college students. I work a lot with Michelle Gonzalez, and her amazing work. I think you've had the Filter Program on here before, in the past. And, most of our students are transfer students coming from different schools, and different credits that they earned in the military. So, that's the main piece though, the first piece of it, is the access and affordability. And I'm so thankful for the policies that Baylor has, to really open up that door. But then, once we have our students here, how are we taking care of them? And that's where we try to really build out, big spheres of support, and students like Brittany are a big part of that. So it's not just, on paper sometimes people refer to the VETS program as an office of one, but that really couldn't be further from the truth. There's amazing people in departments all over, and our students that we lean heavily on, to provide this community of support. Whether it be our Career Center, and we have Mike Lashombe there, demilitarizing resumes and speaking to, how do you communicate all the assets and things that you bring to your employer in a way that your employer is going to understand? And academic support, with Trish Baum, and the amazing work she does, of recreating structure for what seems like a chaotic world of higher education, coming from the military. And [OLA] with the amazing work that they do. And, tweaking again, that wheel to make sure that they're addressing the unique needs of service connection, and some of the challenges that come out of tied-to-service connection disabilities, and make sure we have appropriate classroom accommodation. So, really taking a look at all the different gaps that might be left, if we aren't strategically and intentionally thinking about veterans is how we, is a big part of that. And a big part of that is building community, too. And making sure that they don't feel like they're alone. And, we have our VETS lounge. And then the amazing leadership, like Brittany. Brittany Rothrock, by the way, is our Vice President of Veterans at Baylor, next year. So I'm super stoked for her leadership, and a big part of what they do, is building community. And giving our vets a new mission, is the biggest part. The best thing we can do for our vets is get them back on mission. That's what we're built for. And that's what, what I'm so excited about being at Baylor with a mission of servant leadership. It really makes sense. Our vets are, all of our students are expected to find their next chapter of servant leadership. And that's what Brittany is doing with the Veterans of Baylor student organization, and getting our vets back on mission. And so, yeah, that's a little bit of what we're doing here.
Derek Smith:That's great. This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Kevin Davis, VETS Program Manager and Brittany Rothrock, a rising Baylor senior engineering major, and soon to be the Vice President-Elect, or officially the Vice President of the Veterans of Baylor student group. And I want to talk about, you've talked about some things that are distinct about our veterans' experiences, as they come back to school. And Brittany, I want to ask you a little about your experience, because there are not many people that I've talked to who have, and by not many I mean no one, who have entered college after having already served as a nuclear electrician on a Navy ship. And you did that, for six years. Could you tell us a little bit about that role, and just your Navy experience in general. What it meant to you, what you did and how it shaped you?
Brittany Rothrock:Let's see. I was on the aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson for six years, ish. A lot of what I was doing was power generation and maintenance on site equipment, down in the engine room. And, with all that. I've made a list here of everything I was working on, and it's not even a full, comprehensive list. So, let's just not read that. Shall we?
Derek Smith:It sounds like they kept you pretty busy, a lot of different things you were doing on your [crosstalk].
Brittany Rothrock:There were a lot of different things we were doing, but a lot of what I was having to do being part of the nuclear Navy, was still a lot of education and training. We had to take a test monthly, to maintain proficiency, to even be anywhere down the reactor. By the reactor. A lot of it was also, having to do it yourself, learn what it is that they're wanting. Sure, they're going to have training for certain parts for things that are not necessarily in your rate. For me being an electrician, a lot of it was also for the electronic technicians for the mechanics. We had to know how everything worked together, but a lot of the things for being an electrician, they will teach us. But even more, we had to go and figure it out for ourselves, with all the books that they provided for us. So, that's just something that's always kind of followed me along in my life. Just going back, getting out of the Navy, working retail for a while, then getting back into education. There is so much they'll teach us, but there is a lot more, we have to go out and learn by ourselves.
Derek Smith:You had to take a lot of ownership, I'm guessing, in a lot of ways that weren't necessarily listed in whatever the description or the requirements were.
Brittany Rothrock:Oh, yes. Because those lists of descriptions, requirements and responsibilities constantly changes and they don't always let us know what's happening.
Derek Smith:Did you enter the Navy right out of high school?
Brittany Rothrock:I did. My brother was actually home for two weeks, right before I graduated and was like, "I know you're thinking about going in, after doing some college, but why don't we just go on and talk to them now, anyway?" It's like, "Okay." I was just going to go to community, I wasn't applying for any scholarships or anything, anyway. I get in, they see my ASVAB scores. Like, "You should be a nuclear person." It's like, "Okay." Nope.
Kevin Davis:Not everyone gets scores that, the high for nuclear, there.
Kevin Davis:That's, Brittany is too humble here, about that [crosstalk].
Derek Smith:I was going to say, is she probably underselling a little bit, of what she presented to them? Yeah.
Brittany Rothrock:I don't know. That's just kind of my whole thing, I'd make people underestimate me.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Well, that's good. Well, and it probably in a lot of ways, there are probably some qualities that you had personally, as well as your academic background, that made that a good fit. How did, not just your job on the ship, but just Navy life in general. During some very formative years of your life obviously, out of high school and beyond, shape you?
Brittany Rothrock:I think a lot of it was just learning how to deal with people that I wouldn't normally deal with. Definitely with some of the responsibilities that they put on us, it helped me to assess what my own standards for myself and my own work needed to be, and what could be compromised and what could not be compromised. And that has also been something that I have carried forward for myself, and is also something that I kind of judge other people by. Not by my own standards, but by what I believe that they are able to do. If I think that they can do more, I try to help push them to achieve their full potential, instead of just settling with what they're currently at.
Derek Smith:You know Brittany, you've just described someone, as a young woman in your early to mid 20s, you have experienced leadership, whether it be self leadership, whether it's interacting with others at a high standard, whether it's being around on the ship and working around nuclear equipment stuff that would demand a very high level of attention and knowledge. And, putting all of that together in your early to mid 20s, that's obviously an experience that was probably more common in some ways to the people around you on the ship, but not as common with other people your age and even older than you, when you made the move out of the Navy and back into higher education. I think that ties in, and I'll start with you Brittany, this question for both of you. What that transition is like, when the experiences that have shaped you in a lot of ways, are very different than what other people have? And I'm curious about what that transition is like, when all of a sudden you're thinking about, "Okay, I'm going to go back to college. I'm going to be in an environment that demands a lot of me," but it's very different culturally, than the environment that you were in, in the Navy. And I know Brittany, you're not speaking for every student vet. Everyone's experience is different, but whether it's you personally or other people you've talked to, what are some of those challenges, of transitioning to whether it's civilian life or life as a student at Baylor?
Brittany Rothrock:I think my biggest challenge was actually, not being challenged enough. Because I am going from having so many high standards and responsibilities that I had to fulfill, to... I went to retail work, for a little bit, but they were very low standards and nothing very challenging for me. Yes, I got to continue serving people because that is something that has always been important to me to do, but it wasn't enough for me to feel fulfilled, in my life. At that point, I needed to do something more mentally stimulating and getting back into education and even at that point, the community college that I started up with, there were actually quite a few other veteran students there, that I made connections with and started studying with, as I was going through their curriculum. And knowing that there are other people in the same boat that I was in, that I currently am in, is actually a major support to knowing that I can get through this. I have other people on my side, and I can help them get through this, as well.
Derek Smith:What are your thoughts on that, Kevin? I know Brittany's experience is probably... You've seen that, with other people as well, and maybe even heard other things or experienced them yourself as a veteran.
Kevin Davis:Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit on a couple of big challenges for that transition, coming out of the military and finding our way on the other side of the uniform, so to speak. But also, I think for me personally, I can say that it was pretty challenging coming out of the military, and I kind of identified three big losses in that. That loss of community, and the network and the fiber that we had so tightly woven in the military of, those bonds that you had. And then, the loss of structure. I think Brittany hit on this really well, of where she had these really profound decisions she was having to make on a day-to-day basis, an incredible leadership experience and incredible leadership, really kind of thrust upon hers as far as expectations. And she was making those really high level decisions. But also, we had our... Really, structure. We knew what was expected of us, every hour of the day. And so then you come into, higher education, and I know for me and a lot of the vets that I work with, we'll talk about just, this world of chaos. Where it's, a lot of seemingly less significant decisions that we're making on a day-to-day basis. So, maybe lower impact, but there's just exponentially more breadth in the amount of decisions we're making on a day-to-day basis. And so, recreating that structure is really important. And then Brittany, she's also extremely humble, and didn't mention this. But she's also the winner of our [Wash Tech] Service Award, and so then, that leads into that the other challenge of, that loss of identity and purpose. "What is my mission now?" And that leads so much, so often, into the type of work that Brittany has really leaned into after her military, is just getting out and serving. And taking, wherever she's at, whether it's classroom or helping people move, everything's an opportunity, everything's a mission field. And so I think those are some of the big challenges, that I know I experienced coming out, and a lot of our vets will echo. Sometimes even to the point of, they're back in classroom and like, "Hey, send me back to Iraq. This is tough." And it can feel a little awkward, especially when we're used to the high paced, adrenaline world that we had in the military, and coming out of that.
Derek Smith:Well, you talk about those challenges, even one other that, that maybe leaps out to me a little bit. Brittany, I think it was you a little bit earlier in the program, you mentioned our veterans and their dependents. You talk about the fact that, most of our students, they are 18 to 22. Well, you were on a ship, dealing with a nuclear electricity at that age, or we might have people who were on a battlefield or in dangerous situations. And then now they have, they're at different life stages. In many cases, you might have some who are married or have kids, and a different level of responsibilities than everyone in your class. And I would think, there's probably some great opportunities for relationships there, but that's also probably challenging when the responsibilities you face are very different, than maybe the concerns of a traditional student, who may be in that same class.
Kevin Davis:Yes. Absolutely. The radio isn't picking up my vigorous head nod here, as you're talking. Yes, amen. I know a big challenge that our student vets would tell you, especially the ones that are married and with kids, is they're pulled in so many different directions. Which is, we call ourselves warrior bears. We're both identities, as veterans and bears. But you talk about warrior bears, you talk about the moms and the dads that are burning the candles on both ends here, to balance all the different demands. Whether it be school, going to classes. Working, being married and with kids, and just exponentially more demand on that time, it can be a challenge to balance all that.
Derek Smith:What are some of the ways that the VETS programs, either one of you, kind of helps facilitate that? I know there's some, whether it's programs or events or different things that are designed to bring you all together, so that you can build those relationships?
Kevin Davis:Yeah. I can speak a little bit of that. I'll let Brittany finish it up maybe, here. But I know Brittany already had touched on the big one, right at the beginning. Is that, a vet's orientation experience, before you even start classes. Really leading into all the amazing programming that new student programs put on for our students. But making sure that first, our vets have... Because they're non-traditional students, because they have families, that we're strategically connecting them with a similar cohort before going into that experience to where they their group, that they can navigate all that with, and really feel like they belong as part of those experiences. And so we do our VETS orientation, leading into Welcome Week. And then, and then going into Welcome Week, we have a, a veteran as a Welcome Week Leader, a student veteran, as a Welcome Week leader to help that. And that really serves the mission of, ultimately our goal is, transition. And it's not just to be, I talk about being a launching pad, not a silo, and we're really trying to get our students to engage with the big Baylor experience. But, important to build that solid foundation first of these... You have people that are like you, that have the same backgrounds as you. You have people that you can fall back on, when the whole crazy chaotic world of academia can seem stressful. You have your people, you can still fall back on. But then the expectation is still, that you're going to go in and engage. And so other ways we do that is our VETS New Student Experience class, which I'm so thankful that we're allowed to do. So, first semester here at Baylor, you can take the New Student Experience class. And we just connect, once a week, every week for the first semester, you're connecting with your new student veteran cohort. And we also have our VETS Chapel. I'm so thankful for, for Spiritual Life and their work, helping us make sure we have our alternative chapel space, where vets can connect. And we can talk about faith formation, and what that looks like in our shared experiences as veterans. And that's been real life giving this last year, and a great way to build community. And then, the VETS Lounge. Brittany, you can probably speak more to the VETS lounge and the vibe that's down there. I know Brittany's often found down in the lounge, and the ruckus that ensues, down there.
Brittany Rothrock:It's just amazing and fun, just to see how everybody is connecting and talking down there. And with, having COVID hit recently, it has kind of dulled that down a little bit. We have not been able to have as many people down there as we'd like to, but I am hoping with this next semester, returning a little bit to normal that we will actually help to repopulate it down there. And yes, you will be able to hear us from probably the other end of the wing. And said rich, when we actually really get some conversations going, because we really, really get into everything down there.
Derek Smith:Great. Kind of let your hair down, a little bit down there, and enjoy that time with everyone. That's great, that's great. Well, Kevin and Brittany, I really appreciate you all taking the time today. And Kevin, if people would like to learn more about the VETS program, or if maybe they're thinking about coming to Baylor and want to check it out, what are some ways that they can find out more?
Kevin Davis:Absolutely. You can check out our website, is a great way to start to... baylor.edu\vets, and there's some resources to understand how VA Benefits is going to make Baylor accessible. But then also, the support resources that we're offering on the back end. But please, I tell everyone and anyone, please just reach out and email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I really, we have a pretty small population that I get to serve, which means I get to really connect with each individual, one-on-one. So I really encourage people to reach out to me, directly. I'll set up a tour, I'll take you around on a golf cart. We'll we'll check out campus, and show you who we are at Baylor, and see if it's a good fit for you.
Derek Smith:Well, that's fantastic. Well, Kevin and Brittany, I really appreciate both of your times today. Thank you so much for joining us here, on the program today. You painted a great picture of what VETS is all about.
Kevin Davis:Oh, thank you so much for having us.
Brittany Rothrock:Yeah, thank you so much.
Derek Smith:Kevin Davis, VETS Program Manager and Brittany Rothrock, a student veteran at Baylor, a Navy veteran, and now a rising senior engineering major, our guests today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, a reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. You can subscribe to the program, on iTunes. Thanks for joining us, here on Baylor Connections.