Troops to Teachers helps veterans transition from military service to the classroom

The UI provides several programs, I-SERVE and Troops to Teachers that are crucial for the support of student veterans.


Morgan Ungs, News Reporter

UI senior Elias Varon enlisted in the Marines before attending the University of Iowa to pursue a degree in Elementary Education — and now helps other veterans in the College of Education as a rep for the UI chapter of Troops to Teachers.

Varon is one of 13 student veterans and 38 military-connected students enrolled in the College of Education this fall semester. For nearly a decade, the UI’s I-SERVE program — and more recently embedded Troops to Teachers —  helps veterans transition into higher education and teaching in classrooms themselves.

The I-SERVE (Iowa Supports Education and Resources for Veterans and Enlisted) program, created in 2013, provides resources for veterans pursuing degrees through the UI College of Education, and works in tandem with the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling Program.

Varon, 25, said the programs allowed him to focus on classes and his education, instead of worrying about paperwork or financial obligations.

Veteran Resource Specialist Lorenza Hilliard, who works with the I-SERVE program, said she came to Iowa in the fall, after years of working for Veterans Affairs in California.

Hilliard said this year has been particularly difficult for her to reach out and establish connections with students because of COVID-19, but she is hopeful about her plans for the program in the future.

“The first thing is to bring that sense of community to interact with each other more because it’s so needed right now,” she said. “What I’m realizing coming back [to education] is that I can’t do this alone, and there’s so many opportunities to get help from my cohort. We hold each other up and that’s how this thing works. We have to help somebody else in order to be successful ourselves.”

One of the programs through I-SERVE is called Troops to Teachers, which was established in 2018, nationally. This program provides financial resources and support for veterans, and encourages students to succeed in teaching positions.

Laura Boddicker, who is an advising specialist for the Troops to Teachers program through I-SERVE and a doctoral student in Counselor Education and Supervision, said she agrees that community is an important factor in helping other veterans be successful in a college setting.


Boddicker, who is a Navy veteran, said veterans often are unique and resilient students, but struggle with the transition from the military to the classroom.

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“Veterans struggle during that transition with creating and establishing a new identity outside of the military,” she said. “It is difficult to navigate the system of college especially when veterans are so used to that comradery, structure, and routine in the military. But veterans are very resilient, despite the sacrifices they have made physically and mentally they get up and continue every day.”

Boddicker said those who have served are also less likely to ask for help, so it’s important for them to have a safe place where they feel comfortable and receive support.

Those who have served in the military develop skills such as leadership, discipline, integrity, and adaptability that make teaching a natural fit for veterans, Boddicker said. Because of the increasing demands for teaching, she said veterans can use their abilities to work with these diverse populations of students and motivate them based on their military experience.

Boddicker said she personally experienced the support and mentorship the I-SERVE and Troops to Teachers programs offer in her pursuit of her graduate degrees. She said these resources are really important to veterans, and she hopes other colleges strive to provide similar support.

She added that veterans need a place to be supported, even if they don’t use that space all the time.

“The level of support is completely unconditional,” Boddicker said. “[The programs] have been so understanding with the challenges I’ve experienced as a graduate student… they kept pushing and they knew my value and they knew what I was capable of doing. They motivated and pushed me to get to that point, and I don’t think I would be here without their support.”

As Varon finishes his student teaching this semester at West Branch Middle School, Varon said he is looking forward to teaching in the future and finds motivation from teachers in his past that inspired him throughout school.

“I’ll just keep teaching, continuing my own education, and get students excited about their own education,” he said. “There’s a million ways to go about getting education and my goal is to help students find what they want to do and be excited about it.”