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Mission Accomplished: Two Student Veterans Share Their Stories of Sacrifice and Success

by Janelle Hill Jul 12, 2019

The road to graduation day is never easy. But for student veterans, it can be downright daunting. Just ask Shannon Dodson and Nancy Tyson. The two served their country, married, and became mothers before ever stepping foot into a college classroom. But once they did, their mission was clear. 

“All of us student veterans had a new mission—to graduate,” says Dodson, a supply chain management major. “As brothers and sisters in the military, when you’re on a mission, you drag, push, pull, kick, scream, crying, and laughing all the way to the finish line.” 

Dodson worked in logistics in the Air Force, deploying several times during Operation Enduring Freedom. Tyson joined the Marine Corps after high school, working her way up to become one of the few female drill instructors. 

Both come from military families but being a woman in a male-dominated environment in the late 1990s had its share of challenges. Dodson’s first station had just one female for every 33 males. When Tyson enlisted in the Marines, women made up just two percent of the Corps. 

“It literally took me about six months to convince my recruiter that I was capable of being a Marine,” she says. “Out of 96 women that started basic training, only 46 of us graduated.”

The two women took similar paths from the military to marriage and motherhood. But the idea of getting a college degree and starting a career was never far from their minds. Under the GI Bill, both Tyson and Dodson could pick the school of their choice. DeSales stood out from the rest of the competition, thanks to its Veterans Lounge and growing veteran population. 

“It’s a different environment for me. I’m not a 19 or 20-year-old coming to school. It’s very overwhelming. But then I can come in the lounge and unload and everybody gets it. This is home.”

Nancy Tyson, Marines

Students can relax or do homework in the lounge, which features computers, printers, a TV, and a couch—or the president’s couch as Dodson likes to call it. 

“Father Jim tried to get us a nice, big couch but because we have security on the door, it wouldn’t come through,” she says smiling. “So he was like, ‘I’m getting new furniture, take my couch.’”

Despite the progress DeSales had made to accommodate its student veterans, the school was still missing a key ingredient—its own veterans group. Students and staff members had tried in the past but things never got off the ground. Then, Dodson took a shot. 

In 2018, she launched DeSales Vets for Vets, a chartered chapter of Student Veterans of America, a non-profit organization that works to address the needs and concerns of veterans in higher education.

“What veterans need is not the same as a typical student,” she says. “A lot of veterans, including myself, might not have a 4.0 but we’re bringing that team concept, that military mindset.”

In addition to camaraderie, the group provides a different dynamic for its members to succeed in school. It’s partnered with Trexler Library to host a study day each week, and joined forces with the Career Development Center and Academic Resource Center to provide tutoring and help with resume writing. 

“I have a tutor for every class and I have no shame in saying that because it’s helped me,” says Tyson. “The plethora of services that are within this school has allowed me to excel as a DeSales student and a veteran.”

Another focus of the group is to help DeSales’ Office of Veterans and Military Services make sure student veterans know which benefits they’re entitled to. 

“People have a huge misconception that when you leave the military you get a check every month,” says Dodson. “That’s not true. There are certain things that you have to qualify for. Everything is a numbers game.”

Tyson knows that better than most. During her time in the service, she worked as a benefits advisor for the VA, helping more than 2,000 service members and their families every month. She continues to help veterans today and encourages each one to apply for VA healthcare.

“A lot of veterans don’t know the benefits that they are entitled to,” she says. “If you can think of it, the VA offers the services. The problem is that there’s not a lot of information out there.”

Members of Vets for Vets also keep their spirit of service alive with a number of community initiatives. Every Friday, they take part in the RED campaign—wearing red to Remember Everyone Deployed. Last Thanksgiving, they partnered with Life Church in Nazareth to make meals for low-income families. The following month, they collected toys for Toys for Tots and took part in Doylestown Cemetery’s laying of the wreath ceremony. 

But their biggest goal is to simply care for each other. The father of Tyson’s four children is currently serving in Afghanistan and when her sister deploys in June, Tyson also will be in charge of taking care of her nephew. Still, she won’t be alone. Her newfound family at DeSales will make sure of it. 

“This is like our little base,” says Dodson. “With her children’s father deployed, her family on the base is going to make sure they have food. We’re going to make sure we go jump at the trampoline place and we’re going to make sure we go swimming this summer.”

That family dynamic wouldn’t be possible without the Veterans Lounge or Vets for Vets. Not only did the group allow Dodson and Tyson to connect with their fellow veterans, it gave them something to be proud of. 

“When you transition out of the military, it can be very, very hard,” Tyson says. “Vets for Vets has helped me as a veteran because it’s allowed me to step outside of myself and help other people. For me, that’s where I’m at my best.”