When it comes to bridging the gap between the military and higher education, Jessica McMahan is the ideal connector.
In her new role as the College’s veteran and military student services coordinator, McMahan says her background as a former combat videographer in the U.S. Air Force (see a video clip below) will be an asset in helping her relate to and understand the unique needs of student veterans.
McMahan served her country for 12 years before reentering civilian life in 2012. Like many veterans who struggle with the initial transition back to civilian life, especially those who have served in combat, McMahan says she had a difficult time readjusting after leaving the military.
“You have to find yourself again,” says McMahan, who first came to the College in 2015 as office manager for the ROAR Scholars program. “That’s why I wanted this position so much. I get to help other people get through that.”
McMahan was twice deployed to Iraq to document the war and the selfless service of her comrades, often carrying her rifle in one hand and filming with a video camera in the other. The nature of her job often put her in harm’s way, and she regularly witnessed the stark realities of combat.
As an embedded videographer on numerous combat missions with Army infantry units, McMahan was often forced to put down her camera and take up fighting positions with her rifle when those units came under enemy fire. In 2007, she was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for combat leadership.
Still, even though she had to serve one of her deployments with a baby girl at home, she says proudly of her service: “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Among the primary duties in her new position will be creating individualized road maps for veterans pursuing an education at the College and helping connect them with the campus and community resources and support they’ll need to be successful students.
Part of the Office for the Academic Experience, the new position was made possible through a $24,900 grant from the Palmetto Warrior Connection, and the College added an additional $15,000 to fund the position.
The College currently serves about 335 students using some form of the GI Bill, including family members or dependents of veterans. Military veterans account for about one-third of that number.
Since assuming her new duties at the beginning of September, McMahan has been busy meeting with other campus staff and gathering an inventory of existing services and offices that could be potential resources for veteran students. Two campus colleagues with whom she expects to work closely are Frank Budd, director of the office of Counseling and Substance Abuse Services and a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and Scott Woolum, veterans affairs coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid and Veterans Affairs.
McMahan says her overarching goal is to make the College’s student veterans feel as much a part of the campus community as any other member.
“Most veterans are non-traditional students, so their needs are different than traditional students,” she says. “I want to create a community for student veterans on campus so that we have each other for support. All military veterans are my brothers and sisters. There is always that bond.”
Watch the video below to see a sample of Jessica McMahan’s videography work in Iraq.