Chase Pritt held his iPhone with one hand and steered his car down Highway 99 with the other. All the while, he was giving a speech on Zoom (a video conferencing application) for a class in the Veterans Education Program at Fresno State.
“Not the best decision,” Pritt says of his four-wheel oratory in March 2020. It was prompted when the coronavirus pandemic forced instruction at Fresno State to go virtual. Luckily, he didn’t have to do it again while commuting from his home in Turlock to a part-time job at the University.
When Dr. Scott Moore, dean of the Division of Continuing and Global Education, learned of the Highway 99 speech, he rented a hotel room in Fresno for Pritt on the day of his next speech.
“Our students should not be choosing between school work, jobs or driving with both hands,” says Moore. “The Veterans Education Program is comprised of a small army of donors, who have generously given resources so we can make a difference in our student-veteran’s academic career. In this case, having Chase spend the night near his work meant he could give his speech from the safety of his hotel room and get to his job on time.”
Says Pritt: “Dr. Moore went out of his way so I could be safe and give a speech to the best of my ability. The fact that he did something like that for one of his students speaks volumes about his character and the family aspect of the Veterans Education Program.”
The two-semester program consisting of classes in English, math, communication, critical thinking and University skills gives veterans and active duty military personnel an alternative admission route to Fresno State. Nearly 40 men and women have completed the program to date, which began in 2012.
Pritt a 20-year-old intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army Reserves was admitted to Fresno State in the fall as a criminology major. His goal: work for a federal law enforcement agency. Because of the Veterans Education Program, he now has greater confidence in his academic ability.
“The professors really helped me dig deeper into concepts of reading and writing, and how to display my thoughts on paper so I attract readers and hold their attention,” Pritt says.
He also enjoyed the camaraderie of other students in his cohort. “In the military, they really believe in no soldier gets left behind, and in the cohort I felt that same energy. Nobody is going to let you fall, and if you do fall, we’re going to be right there to pick you up,” Pritt says.
Fresno State offered support in another way, too. The dairy unit in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology hired Pritt as a milker. “I threw myself into the job and ran with it. I love it,” he says. The dairy unit also has hired two other students from the Veterans Education Program, Phillip Lancaster and Calvin Boswell. Fresno State’s dairy herd has Jersey and Holstein cows, and milking occurs at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Students who work in the dairy unit must be dependable, says Dr. Kyle Thompson, assistant professor of dairy science and coordinator of the Dairy Science Program. “Students who are veterans are hands down some of the most assiduous, trustworthy and respectful employees on the dairy. They are a perfect example of what I look for in employees. Many young adults can learn from their example.”
Joseph Anderson heard stories as a boy about his Navajo family’s military service to the United States. That tradition spanned generations across World War II and wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.
“Their service was the reason I enlisted when I got older – to continue a tradition of our ‘warrior’ mentality,” he says.
Anderson joined the Marine Corps at 18 on a life’s journey that eventually led him to the Veterans Education Program. He completed the program last spring and is now a full-time student at the University. Anderson, 45, has experienced tragedy, fought addiction and dealt with legal problems. The Veterans Education Program gave him something important as he worked to make a better life for his wife and three children.
“I found the bond and camaraderie that I had in the military,” Anderson says. “I now have someone I can call, someone who understands the different ways I feel as a veteran. That bond helped revive me.”
The Veterans Education Program offers veterans and active-duty personnel courses to prepare them to matriculate as Fresno State students.
Anderson’s parents – both Navajo – divorced when he was young, and he split his time between the two. Life with his father on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico lacked modern conveniences. They had no electricity or running water, and they used an old-fashioned icebox with a block of ice. Anderson roamed the land hunting rabbits and ground squirrels, and, he says, “I had no cares in the world – just me and the animals out there.” He also heard family stories of valor from his family’s military service – service to a nation that had treated his people badly for more than 200 years.
“We’re Native Americans, and the United States did our people wrong. But this is still our land regardless of who’s on it now, and we need to protect it. It’s an ideology of love your country, not necessarily your government,” he says.
When Anderson was 8, his father was killed by a drunk driver, and he went to live full time with his mother and stepfather in Los Angeles. He describes the transition as “culture shock.” Traffic was constant, noise swept over the city, and everyone was rushing somewhere. After high school, he began his four year enlistment – becoming a fuel specialist servicing planes and helicopters, and also training Marines and sailors to use rifles and pistols. He found security in military regimen, but later struggled with sobriety after he left the Marines, and he was in and out of jail many times.
“It was a giant struggle to get back into the world,” Anderson says. “I coped by drinking to numb myself out.”
Living in the Bay Area as the new millennium began, Anderson was working at manual labor jobs when his wife, Valerie, suggested he go back to school. He started attending a community college, which he enjoyed. “There was structure there, and that’s how my brain functions best. I don’t do well in chaos, even though most of the time I was in chaos.”
When Anderson and his family moved to Fresno in 2003, he attended Fresno City College. But his grades slipped, and his goal of transferring to Fresno State seemed to fade further away. Then his wife learned about the Veterans Education Program.
Anderson’s history presented challenges that others in the program did not have, but he faced that head on, says program coordinator Nick Carbajal. “He never asked for special treatment or accommodations. He dug in and worked diligently to complete the program, while always supporting the members of his VEP cohort,” Carbajal says.
Associate Dean Dr. Daniel Bernard, who oversees the program added, “Joseph’s story is unique to him — and at the same time — is a story of struggle shared by many of his fellow veterans. His journey to success exemplifies both the passion and dedication of our student veterans as well as the role the Veterans Education Program can play in transitioning our student veterans into higher education.”
At one Veterans Education Program event, Anderson literally wore the symbols of his family’s military service. His vest had woven into its design replicas of service ribbons awarded in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq. An aunt who served in the U.S. Army for 26 years and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan had the vest made for him.
Anderson is proud of what he has accomplished since joining the Veterans Education Program.
“And I’m really looking forward to pushing myself to take on other challenges and getting through those challenges,” he says. “I don’t think I’d have been able to accomplish that without going through the program.”
Anderson is majoring in geology with a goal of joining the U.S. Forest Service or some other agency that has him work in a forest — a connection to nature he forged while living on the Navajo reservation. As he says: “I want to walk among the trees and keep them safe. I’m really looking forward to pushing myself to take on other challenges and getting through those challenges.”
(Written by Douglas Hoagland, a freelance writer based in Fresno)