This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.
The GI Bill is a term often associated with the years immediately following World War II, but it has existed in some form or fashion since then. A revamped version approved by Congress in 2008, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, has given new life to the program and increased the number of veterans on college campuses throughout the country.
Brandon Ewing served in the marine corps for five years and entered Baylor University in 2009 on the new GI Bill to pursue a bachelor's degree in economics and international studies. He describes his experiences as a student veteran in a 2011 interview:
"I purposefully gave up my college-age years—I guess typical college-age years—to go into the military and to do that, but you still—those years are formative and they still make you who you are, and so, you know, I still went through the same kind of thing in the military. So when I come out of the military and go into college then I'm put back with people that are just going through that. So I always feel like I walked back into—it's not like high school, but I always felt like I kind of went back into that—it's great to be older and to have experience. When I was in high school, you know, I was a A and B student, but I could have done a lot better. I could have pushed myself a lot harder. I understand that now, so there's a lot of advantages to being older and to being here and doing it. And in a lot of ways, you know, people always say, If I knew then what I know now, well, I kind of get that. I kind of am in that position, which is—which is great."
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Pirko came to Baylor in 2010 with 20 years in the air force and enrolled in the master's program in information systems with a security emphasis. In his second semester at Baylor, he reflected on his return to the university setting:
"Having lived in Italy for three years my wife and I were both able to learn the language, so I've become involved—I'm the vice president of the Italian Club here on campus. I'm secretary of the Graduate Business Association. I think the students here for the most part are here to really learn and challenge themselves a little bit. Undergrads are always going to be undergrads, and that's going to be an—mean some differences in the approach. But I think that, honestly, being an older student in this setting, even in the undergraduate classes, it gives a certain different perspective. Some of the professors have a tough time dealing with that because you have more practical experience than they do in certain areas. It kind of scares them a little bit. But I think the kids get something out of hearing, oh, there's someone who's been there, done that, as opposed to just the esoteric nature of academia. Yeah, there's the real world, and then there's academia. We have to pull the two together a little bit more, but I think that I can add something to that by being here. And it's—Baylor's given back a lot to me too. I've enjoyed my time here, and I enjoy what I do."
Pirko explains what he sees as the benefit of having student veterans at colleges and universities:
"I mean, it sounds a little cliché to say it, but I think the caliber of students that you get, when they've had military experience of any kind, is going to be slightly different and slightly higher than a normal undergraduate coming directly out of a high school. That sounds pretentious a little bit, but I think it's true."
In 2012, both Ewing and Pirko graduated with their respective degrees. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has undergone some changes since it was introduced but is still going strong. This fall semester of 2013, Baylor has approximately 100 student veterans attending classes.
Living Stories is heard on 103 point 3 FM Waco, NPR. For full transcripts of the interviews featured in this segment, or for more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.
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