Veterans find support in transition to education careers


DJ Burrough

After being on the Arizona State University campus for nearly two years, Kagan Sherman has learned how to identify a fellow military veteran.


Kelsey and Kagan Sherman

“Sometimes you can spot them because of their fade haircut, but it’s more in the way they carry themselves,” says Sherman, a 28-year-old former U.S. Marine majoring in (Secondary Education, Earth and Space Sciences) at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. His wife, Kelsey, is also studying Secondary Education at MLFTC. “You can sometimes feel overwhelmed or alone so it’s comforting to find another veteran. I may not know a thing about them, but know it’s someone I can relate to in some way.” 

More than 11,300 military-affiliated students (active duty, reservists, spouses, dependent children and retired military) are enrolled for the fall 2020 semester — about 8 percent of the total ASU enrollment. 

“We take care of our veterans and it’s well known among the troops,” says Shawn Banzhaf (SFC Army Ret.), a senior military advocate at the Pat Tillman Veteran Center. “They have heard from their buddies that ASU takes care of you. It’s our high touch that brings them.”

There is a Pat Tillman Veteran Center on each ASU campus, including a newly opened second location at the Tempe campus at Sun Devil Stadium. The centers are a place where military-affiliated students can get help with scheduling classes and establishing residency, as well as mental health counseling and career planning. They are also places to hang out, drink coffee and swap stories with other veterans, Banzhaf says. Certifying officials, direct liaisons with the Department of Veterans Affairs, are available to ensure that the substantial amount of paperwork needed to receive funding through the Post-9/11 GI Bill is completed correctly.

At MLFTC, veterans have access to the Student Success Team, which offers tutoring, stress management, financial aid and more. 

“The transition from the military is not always easy,” Banzhaf says. “We help them understand what higher education is about so they are better prepared. In the military you learn it’s never about you — it’s about the team. Whereas college is about finding yourself and your purpose. We want them to know that they are not doing it alone.”

To better help ASU faculty and staff work with veterans, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center established Proving Grounds, a program that provides education on military culture. More than 600 faculty and staff have received the training, Banzhaf says.


Curtiss Brouthers

Curtiss Brouthers, 41, is an active duty captain in the U.S. Army and is enrolled in MLFTC’s Master of Arts in Learning Sciences — on a full scholarship. During his 22 years in the Army, Curtiss has been stationed at more than a dozen bases around the world, and served nearly three years in active combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently he is on an 18-month personal development sabbatical.

“Having my master’s will help my professional career,” he says. “Having professional leaders who are advancing in their skills and education is a benefit to the Army.” 

Having been trained by superiors with a diversity of styles (some of it delivered at top volume) and now teaching younger soldiers, Brouthers is fascinated by how people learn and absorb new information.

“I definitely want to be able to apply that to anything I teach and any job I have,” says Brouthers, who graduates in May and will return to active duty. “It helps connect people to knowledge and understanding how to find the best outcomes for learning. People think education doesn’t happen outside the classroom, but it does. Informal environments are very influential.” 

His advice to those in the military considering college, either while on active duty or after: take advantage of the GI Bill, ask other veterans for guidance and plug into the college culture.

“You don’t want to limit yourself to one community,” he says. “You are going to learn a lot from different people. Take a risk and get out there. Network as much as you can. Join clubs and make new friends.”