10 Years of Serving on the Homefront

By Doug Brown, Class of 2007

Doug in his father’s flight helmet, Hanau AAF, Germany 1991

One of my earliest memories as a military child is greeting my Dad’s unit back to Hanau Army Airfield in Germany upon their return from Desert Storm in the early 90’s. To this day I can remember the sights and sounds of everything happening around me in that old Army hanger. This is the earliest indication of being an ‘Army Brat’ and understanding what it would later mean to serve on the home-front. Over the next 18 years of my young life, my mother, sisters, and I would serve here at home while Dad was doing his part in some foreign land halfway across the globe. In 2007, after 23 years of selfless service to his country, my father finally hung up his flight suit and combat boots one last time as a soldier. This also happened to be my senior year of high school and just in time for the next chapter in my life, college.

The Year 2007 saw:

  • Apple introduced the world’s first iPhone
  • Virginia Tech Mass Shooting occurred on the Blacksburg Campus
  • The Mitchell Report claimed use of steroids in Major League Baseball
  • US housing bubble began to burst as home prices dropped drastically
  • Nancy Pelosi elected first female Speaker of the House
  • Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy
  • Corvias Foundation offered its first scholarship class under the name Our Family for Families First

As with most military families, neither of my parents had gone to college or gotten degrees . Military parents often married young and had multiple children with another on the way. We weren’t poor by many standards and always had food on the table and a roof over our heads, but we certainly weren’t taking lavish family vacations or driving the newest cars. So, when it came to school and college, I knew my best shot at being a first-generation college student was a combination of good grades, scholarships, and a little luck. One day in the spring of 2007 while browsing my high school’s newsletter, I saw a section listing scholarship opportunities. Of the dozen or so scattered across the page, one in particular struck me as both odd and a potential candidate at the same time:

“Our Family for Families First Scholarship Foundation and Picerne Military Housing seeks Military Dependents for annual scholarship…”

I had heard of odd scholarships for those that are left-handed, shorter or taller than average, could finish a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded with one hand behind their back, etc., but I had never heard of a scholarship directed solely to children of the military. Even with a great GPA, I still figured myself a longshot due to the of the competitive nature and high demand of scholarships , but I applied anyway at the request of my counselors and family. I got letters of recommendation from JROTC instructors, coaches, teachers, and even my school principal. I poured over my entrant essay for days trying to get the wording just right. This was the break I had been waiting for…this was my chance to better myself and earn a college degree, something my parents hadn’t yet done…ANDDDD I was rejected. I was heartbroken. In what would become the silver lining and a similar story among my other scholarship alumni, I was asked to apply again as they would be doing two award rounds that year to jump-start the new foundation. With that encouragement and a bit of hesitation at the thought of being rejected again, I reapplied. This time, I was accepted into the inaugural class of recipients for the newly formed Our Family for Families First Foundation. Not only would I be going to college, but with almost all expenses paid, the great financial burden upon myself and my family had been lifted.

Like many college freshman, I struggled with the new adjustment of being away from home and, relatively, out on my own. I was just another young, 18 year-old kid trying to find my place amongst a world much different from the strict and orderly military life I had grown accustomed to. Luckily, during the annual recipient award ceremony in Washington, D.C., I had been introduced to Maria Montalvo and Melissa Ballou. They were directors at the Foundation and would be our “guides” throughout our time in college. I wasn’t sure just how much that meant at the time, but it is evident today what they truly mean to the success of every recipient. When I began to struggle with harder classes my second semester, Melissa was there to check-in every so often and see if there was anything The Foundation could do to help keep me on track. Not only had Corvias given me a scholarship, but they were personally vested in my individual success. They were “Serving on the Homefront” as I had done for my father all those years ago.

The fall of my sophomore year, I decided to really press my luck and pledge a fraternity. After-all, I had survived my first year with only a few minor bumps in the road. I was pretty confident that a few social events here and there couldn’t be too disruptive, right? Well, as I am sure you can guess, I was wrong…I actually managed a sub-1.0 GPA! I didn’t even think that was remotely possible, but I am here to confirm, it is! Contrary to what you might assume, it wasn’t for lack of trying or skipping class—the older Brothers in the fraternity made sure we were in class every day and attended study mandatory study halls. However, the late nights and distractions of constant events and functions certainly took my focus away from what was most important to me. There were just no excuses, but it didn’t change the fact that I was completely devastated. I was an ‘A-B’ student in high school and had just about breezed my way through my freshman year. How was this any different? Nevertheless, Maria and Melissa were there to help me with suggestions at a time when I feared losing my scholarship altogether. They had ideas I had never remotely considered, such as, visiting my professors on a regular basis and speaking to my department counselors about tutors and study sessions. Again, the Foundation was “Serving on the Homefront”.

In the summer of 2009, I was invited to the annual recipient award ceremony. Now held in Boston, the event also included a college orientation for recipients.    I hosted a “no-adults” 1-on-1 session with the incoming class so that we could, openly and honestly, respond to any concerns that the new recipients may have had about college life. In planning this panel, The Foundation provided multiple new benefits to it members. New scholars were given the chance to learn from their senior peers, who were already experiencing the same challenges they would soon face. Rather than the college marketing orientation weekend, this was a no-holds-barred conversation about what to really expect when you first step onto campus. The less obvious benefit was the opportunity to offered to the other scholars and myself.  As the youngest of 3 siblings, I was usually the one being looked after by my sisters. This was the first time I really had a chance to be a leader and mentor for those around me. I can’t say for sure, but it was definitely the spark of who I would later become as a part of The Foundation and Alumni community.  It was also the stern kick-in-the-pants motivation I needed to get my schooling back on track and finish my final two years with a bang and make The Foundation proud.

Finish with a bang is what I did! The next two years were full of your typical ups and down in life, but I persevered with the support and guidance of Maria and Melissa who always seemed to pop in just when I needed them most. In the Spring of 2011 I finally walked across the stage and accepted my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Commerce & Business Administration with a Sales Specialization. To the joking amazement of many, I also managed to escape in only four years. I had made my family proud, I had earned my degree and I had finally fulfilled my promise to The Foundation…or so I had thought! Shortly thereafter I received a call from Maria asking if I would be the guest speaker at the annual new scholar & alumni award ceremony. As somewhat of a blossoming leader, I was beyond excited to again get to share my experiences with my peers, the new scholars, their parents, and the rest of The Foundation. I chose to speak about how failure is just a stepping stone of success, a lesson I had learned through the support Maria, Melissa, and the Foundation.

In 2014 the Foundation introduced a new benefit by organizing the first annual Alumni Leadership Summit. We were tasked with brainstorming how to help future scholars succeed and how we could grow the mission of the Foundation beyond its’ original scope to also give back in each of the communities we now lived and served in. Over the next several years, this would become an annual gathering of “the family” as we often called it to honor the original Our Family for Families First name. Together we would derive our current mission statement and alumni vision, perform community service projects, and inspire each other to continue to do good at home.  Perhaps most importantly, we have grown closer to one another by supporting one another and striving to inspire the world around us.

Several years out of college, I keep connected with the Foundation Family that continues to support me with opportunities for leadership and personal growth.  I have become one of the de facto leaders among the alumni. So much so, that I earned the nickname ‘Dad’ during our time in the mountains of Colorado because of my father-like  nature to always be on the lookout for others in the group. This past year in Connecticut, that nickname became even more relevant when I revealed to the group that I would, in fact, be a real ‘Dad’ come this Christmas.

Looking back on the last decade of how Corvias has “Served on the Homefront” and how that mission has evolved is quite amazing. To get to be a part of it since nearly day one, is nothing short of a miracle. Maria and Melissa are no longer our only “guides”, having added Erin Mathias to the Family, and have become affectionately known as the “Corvi-Aunts”.  Like our biological families, they are a shoulder we can lean on in times of need or a listening ear if we just want to share our good vibes for the week. They show us how to care for others and help us grow.  It’s hard to believe that the Foundation could be any better than it already is, but the Corvias way is to never settle and always ask “How?”. I just hope that I can be a part of the Family for many years to come and continue to do my part in “Serving on the Homefront”.

 

Advertisements

Following Dream A and End up at Dream B(etter)

I’m the textbook stereotype of an overachieving first-born child. In high school, I was captain of the soccer team, one of the most decorated JROTC cadets of my school’s battalion, in the top of the class academically, and a member of various student organizations. I even paid for my entire undergraduate college tuition, fees, room and board entirely with scholarships. (This triggered an old bargain my Dad made with me in third grade that resulted in a new car before college.) I set high expectations for myself, and I was used to exceeding them.

The expectation I set for myself in college was medical school. That was the plan (and I’m a planner). You get a degree in biology, and then you move onto medical school. My grades weren’t as spectacular as they were in high school but, they weren’t terrible. I had varied and dedicated extracurriculars and a part time job. I volunteered at a Children’s Hospital, and I even continued to play club soccer. I studied abroad for two summer semesters and was able to complete my degree in four years. I had multiple awards and honors and a decent test score for entry to medical school. I knew medical school admission officers were going to love me!

But then they didn’t. I applied to at least ten different medical schools and was subsequently rejected from all of them. “Sorry, thanks for applying but we aren’t interested.” I started to panic. What in the world was I supposed to do now? I didn’t really have a backup plan (highly unusual for me) but I had always just known I was going to go to medical school.

During the last semester of my undergraduate program, I utilized one of my more eccentric talents and researched frantically to find something to fill what was now just going to be a gap year in my studies. I soon found a graduate school with a Master’s program that was essentially geared for people who couldn’t get into medical or dental school. They didn’t advertise it that way but it was pretty much the gist. I was surrounded by people all hoping to get into a professional school or move onto PhD programs. And they all seemed successful. This was the new plan. This was where I was going to gain a little more life experience. Just one small bump in the road, then medical school here I come. I could totally do this!

I had to repeat one of my courses and extend my program out an extra semester because in graduate school you cannot make Cs (even borderline, 1 point off C+s). I didn’t let that deter me, I went on to get a 4.0 the next semester and graduated in December instead of May. I applied for medical school again, this time being a little more selective of my choices. Everyone was on board with my plan – it was even quoted in a newspaper article. But again I didn’t get into medical school.

My family was super supportive the whole time. I admit that even they told me that no one ever said I had to go to medical school. The whole situation was devastating to me, and I felt like a failure. But I couldn’t hide behind school anymore, so I got a job. I went to work in a histopathology laboratory (the place they send specimens for testing after you have surgery) for some time. At least it was in the realm of science and was going to put to use some of the knowledge I gained from these two degrees. It wasn’t the fault of the hiring manager but my naiveté that I took the job without understanding that I wasn’t going to start off doing these great amazing things they promised during the initial interview. I was miserable for a good while working a 2 am shift just placing glass slides in a folder and ensuring names matched. I gained some basic skills and eventually they allowed me to do some more technical stuff but it still wasn’t enough.

Many laboratory people will tell you the reason they work in the lab is because they don’t like people, and while I may have been shy in my childhood, I still wanted to talk to people/patients as part of my job. I loved the science aspect of what I did and researched how to go further with that and how I could utilize my hard earned Master’s degree. I remember finding a book in the library of what to do with your biology degree. Everything I found interesting required me to go back to school. But I knew if I went back to school I wanted it to be for something meaningful and definitely a terminal degree.

I researched more careers and ran across physician assistants (PA) among other things. I kept coming back to the PA thing though. There happen to be a school in the area I worked and two others in the state, as well as a new program at the school where I had done my Master’s. I had a few friends from grad school who had gone into the field, and it felt right. Then I found out that I couldn’t apply right away. I actually set up my letters of rec beforehand, but I had to take two extra courses that they refused to waive. (Medical terminology being one, for goodness sake I had a Master’s in Medical Science!) A new plan was formed. I took the classes the next semester and started the application process. I found a PA to shadow and maintained my current job, although my employer may not have been too pleased about my future endeavors.

By the end of summer I hadn’t heard anything about an interview, but forum websites (that I stalked) said they were happening. I was starting to lose hope when finally I received an e-mail asking to come in for an interview. I have always believed in myself that if I could get the interview, I could make a good enough impression to land the job or position.  The PA school interview was all of 15 minutes but I did everything you’re supposed to do. I made a good first impression with the receptionist and talked with other applicants and current students in the appropriate manner. I answered the questions correctly regarding the profession. There was an exam at the end but I wasn’t worried. I had been told from previous students the scores wouldn’t factor into the interview but just serve as a baseline for the future coursework. I nailed the ethical question essay, and I was feeling fantastic. I knew this was what I was meant to do.

The next week after the interview, as I was creeping on those forum websites again, I saw that people were already getting acceptance e-mails, but I got nothing. About two weeks later I had a letter in the mail that stated, “sorry but we’re not interested.” I was upset. My now husband tried to comfort me as best he could. I remember he brought home pumpkins to decorate (something we never did) just to have a project to do and keep my mind off of it. Another two weeks later he would propose to me and confessed that he felt terrible when I found out I was rejected that he wanted to tell me his surprise right then and there just to make me feel better. He just knew I was going to get in and then he was going to propose and then our fairy tale would begin. I enjoyed the moment and felt reassured that at least I had a good man in my life even if I had no idea what I was going to do now.

Three weeks later, shortly before Thanksgiving I was on a weekly coffee/tea date I have with my friend before work and her classes and my phone rang. I let it go to voicemail because it wasn’t a number I recognized, and I didn’t want to be rude. They left a voicemail, and then thru a quick google search realized it was from the school that had rejected me. What could they possibly want? My friend encouraged me to call them back right then and there. They had called to offer me a spot on the waitlist. I said yes immediately, but I tried not to get my hopes up … I wasn’t sure I could stand anymore rejection at this point. Secretly in the back of my head I thought it kind of a cruel joke to offer a wait list spot to someone who was rejected outright at first but maybe there was a chance.

I went on vacation with my new fiancée to my parents’ home (stationed in Virginia at the time). At this point I had saved the PA school’s number in my phone. This time when the phone rang and I looked down to see the number, I knew who it was. I said the words out loud in the living room, “it’s the college calling.” I answered on the third ring as my parents and fiancée stared at me. As I was trying to listen to the woman on the phone explain that they were offering me a spot in the class, they continued to stare and mouth loudly, “What is it? Are you in?” I had to walk into another room and start shutting doors behind me to concentrate. I accepted on the spot and assured the woman that I would pay my seat deposit as soon as I returned from vacation.

When I got home, I turned in my letter of resignation at work and set myself up to start school in January. No lie, PA school was rough, and it’s no joke … learn ALL of medicine and how to treat patients … oh and do it in 28 months. It was draining, and I didn’t have an extensive social life. When I started seeing patients during my clinical rotations, I knew it was so worth it. THIS is what I was meant to do, this is truly my calling. Now, I have dozens of stories about patients who contribute to just how wonderful and proud it makes me feel to be a PA. I am honored to have been a part of those patients’ medical team. I intend to be the best PA that I can and advocate for my patients as I begin my medical career. The path to this point was not easy, but it has somehow been necessary to make the end result feel this satisfying.

I graduated towards the top of my class and passed my board exam with no issues … how’s that for someone who was initially rejected? I guess the other moral to point out here is don’t give up on your dreams even if they don’t look the same as when you first started the journey.