Full Scholarship Allows Military Spouse to Earn Environmental Degree
Education hasn’t always come easy to Heather Poss, but she is more than ready now to advance toward her goals and realize her dreams.
As a long-time military spouse with three children, Poss has had little time to focus on herself and her aspirations. But, as her children get older and her family has been able to settle in Hawaii, she is ready to put her goals at the forefront.
“Returning to school had been on my mind a great deal as of late. I felt this was a good time to dip my feet in and slowly start working towards my education goals,” said Poss. "I signed up for the Operation Homefront Celebration and saw that SNHU would be selecting a military spouse to grant a scholarship to, and I took a shot in the dark."
On Saturday, Sept. 18, Poss was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) where she will have the opportunity to achieve her bachelor’s degree online. The scholarship was awarded during an SNHU-sponsored virtual event.
“This scholarship is enabling me, with peace of mind, to pursue my educational goals. To military families, peace of mind and assurance is very rare and is a priceless luxury," Poss said. "I have been handed the opportunity to chase my dreams."
Empowering Military Spouses
Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that works towards building strong, stable, and secure military families, partners with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) several times a year to celebrate military spouses across the country.
“Military life can challenge the pursuit of a meaningful career for so many military spouses as frequent moves, deployments, and often living far from family support, make it difficult to complete a traditional degree,” said Sarah Adams, Operation Homefront senior director serving Hawaii. “We are so grateful to Southern New Hampshire University, who is providing Heather a chance to follow her dream, helping her start strong and stay strong regardless of where the military may take her family.”
Operation Homefront and SNHU recognize access to higher education is often a challenge many military spouses face. To date, SNHU has awarded over 30 full-tuition scholarships for online degree programs to military spouses, all of which have been presented at Homefront Celebrations nationwide.
“This scholarship is one small way that we can demonstrate to our military spouse community that we see them, value them, and honor their sacrifices,” said Melissa Escobar-Pereira, regional manager, military alliances at SNHU, as well as a U.S. Army veteran and current military spouse. “With every scholarship we give, we are doing what we do best; changing lives.”
For military spouses like Poss, it can be the first step toward their own goals. “I believe a degree is important for military spouses because it allows us to have something in our life that is ours and ours alone,” she said.
A Passion Reignited
Her husband's service as a Yeoman First Class in the U.S. Navy has brought their family to many new locations. Their latest move opened Poss's eyes to new possibilities for her future.
“When my family recently moved to Hawaii, on orders to Pearl Harbor, my passion for marine life was re-sparked,” said Poss. “Going to the beach with my family and seeing all the microplastic and trash everywhere broke my heart and spurred a strong desire to encourage change."
As her passion and care for marine life reignited, Poss began to think this may be the right time to consider going back to school. She was looking into local community colleges when she received word she won the SNHU scholarship, further confirming she was on the right path. Poss is excited to start her bachelor’s in environmental science with a concentration in natural resources and conservation.
“A degree through SNHU gives me the flexibility to achieve my goals at a pace that works for my family and my family's military lifestyle. I can take as many or as few classes as I can handle for whatever season of military life we are in,” Poss said. “This is the cornerstone for financial freedom and an ability to work in a field I am passionate about.”
While she is just starting her program in environmental science, her motivation doesn’t end there as she is already thinking about the future. Her long-term goal is to achieve a second bachelor's degree in marine biology to be a more educated and marketable conservation scientist.
Finding Strength To Fight For Herself
Military spouses often make sacrifices, putting their own dreams on hold. These challenges can create personal hardships, sometimes related to mental health; something Poss knew all too well.
“I was diagnosed with clinical depression as an adolescent, and it is something I have struggled with my entire life,” said Poss. “My worst struggles came at our last duty station in Great Lakes. It was cold and overcast for a large portion of the year, something I was not accustomed to. It sent me into a dark place where I struggled quite frequently with suicidal ideation.”
Her family was patient and supportive as she found the strength to fight for herself and her family.
“They gave me the strength to fight for myself, to seek counseling, to stay consistent with medication and to take things one day at a time,” Poss said.
While applying for the scholarship, she was vulnerable and honest about her mental health, and it paid off in the end.
“She presented her authentic self, detailed her struggles and demonstrated that she wants to grow in her application, and it resonated with so many of us,” said Escobar-Pereira.
With over 14 years as a military spouse, Poss said life as a military spouse is exciting, scary, stressful and wonderful all wrapped into one. Even with the struggles, she loves her military life and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having found the strength within herself and through the support of her family, Poss is ready to take on her education and set her goals into motion.
“It took some time and a lot of hard work, but things got better," she said. "Now, every day is sunshine and rainbows, and quite literally, as we are in Hawaii, and I get to begin the pursuit of my dreams thanks to the scholarship from SNHU.”
Alexa Gustavsen '21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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