By USO Staff
The roles and responsibilities of active-duty service members rest heavily on their shoulders 24 hours a day, which is why the thought of attempting to earn an academic degree while also serving in the military might feel overwhelming — or even impossible. However, working together, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and the USO have turned the improbable into the achievable as the university and nonprofit organization work together to support military students from enrollment day to graduation.
When Staff Sgt. Kevin Heleodoro joined the U.S. Army in 2016, pursuing higher education was not at the top of his task list. He was instead focused on adjusting to military life and his new assignment to Fort Hood, Texas.
Then a European rotation took him to Poland, Lithuania and Germany. It was overseas when he first discovered the USO, frequently visiting the organization’s centers to access the free internet, play video games, take a break from the field and get out of the barracks.
Within a few years of service, Heleodoro noticed that service members with college degrees gained an advantage when it came time for promotions.
“Everybody can do pushups, but there are only a few people who have taken the extra step. They stand out head and shoulders above the rest,” Heleodoro said. “For transitioning service members, a degree sets you up for a great career.”
Heleodoro began pursuing a degree in 2020 from SNHU, the Worldwide Education Partner of the USO. From the beginning, he appreciated the university’s commitment to active-duty and retired military members — from coordinating financial aid and military education benefits, to assigning him a personal advisor.
“For my first semester, my advisor helped me select a course load that I could balance with my time in the field, such as courses that might not be as intensive and research-focused. I was able to maintain the pace so I wouldn’t fall behind,” he said.
Along with the roles of the service member and student, Heleodoro was also balancing the very important and time-consuming role of single father to his 5-year-old daughter Lili.
“It was always tough to find the time for the homework because I wanted to give Lili all of my attention. I completed most of my work around four or five in the morning, or between one and two at night so it wouldn’t take away from my time with her,” Heleodoro said. “The good thing about being in the Army is you get used to not having much sleep, so it’s manageable.”
When Heleodoro began his courses, he couldn’t have predicted that he would be injured just a short while later, with a medical discharge on the horizon. His thoughts turned to his future. Would he find a satisfying career outside of the military? Could he support his family? Luckily, the USO Pathfinder® Transition Program was there to guide him.
The USO Pathfinder® Transition Program provides free, customized support at any time in a service member or military spouse’s career, including action plans, programs and resources focused on job-seeking, education, financial readiness and mentorship. Participants in the program are assigned an individual USO Transition Specialist who assists them in their educational and professional aspirations.
Heleodoro encourages other separating service members to share their goals with their transition specialist. “Then listen to their advice and give it an honest effort.”
Heleodoro’s USO Transition Specialist introduced him to resources to prepare for his job search, such as how to represent himself well online or how to translate his military skills to the civilian world, as well as helped him connect with potential employers for when he returns to his hometown of Boston. His USO Transition Specialist also provided him with information on continuing education, including SHNU’s more than 200 online and in-person programs.
Heledoro would go on to complete a degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting in June 2022 and is now moving on to pursue a master’s degree in computer science. He is looking ahead to a career in artificial intelligence or machine learning, and continues to be a role model for his daughter.
Reflecting on the past few years, Heleodoro said, “I hope that from seeing my experience she will take away the drive and the desire to always better yourself. Always try to achieve more and do the best you can.”
How SNHU Partners with the USO to Support Our Nation’s Military
SNHU, which has its own rich history of serving America’s military, has partnered with the USO as the organization’s Worldwide Education Partner since 2016.
In this role, SNHU delivers educational resources and opportunities that help men and women in uniform, as well as their spouses, throughout their military journey and as they transition back into civilian life. Since first partnering with the USO in 2016, SNHU has provided valuable support to the USO and has worked with the USO to award several military-affiliated learners with full-tuition scholarships.
From collaborating on events and programming at USO locations around the world, to offering academic guidance, financial literacy support and more, SNHU is a true Force Behind the Forces®.
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