Five Eastern Kentucky University student veterans recently received the Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship. The scholarship is a provision of the Forever GI Bill that gives additional benefits to students training in high-demand STEM fields.
The scholarship offers students the opportunity to finish their STEM degree program or teaching certification with significantly less student debt or out-of-pocket costs.
Sixth District Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky), on hand to present the scholarships, introduced the bill last April, which amends the credit hour requirement of the scholarship program in the Forever GI Bill, making the scholarship more accessible to veterans across the country.
“The impact of this scholarship on our individual veteran students and their families is immeasurable,” said Barbara Kent, director of the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA). “Equally important is its impact beyond the individual student and to society at large because recipients are able to achieve their educational goals to go on and serve other veterans as well as their communities.”
One of the first recipients, James Birdsong, served in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2006 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then served in the National Guard until 2009. He is currently pursuing a degree in occupational safety with a minor in fire and safety engineering.
After high school, he jumped straight into work. “I didn’t see the point of school,” he said. But Birdsong had to rethink his career path when the company he worked for closed. He enrolled in college, but psychologically found it difficult to settle in. Not all classes transferred from his community college and he fell behind in some classes due to spells with anxiety and depression.
“I never thought I’d be here,” he said “and I didn’t do this alone. People have helped me along the way. EKU professors have been incredibly helpful and I am very thankful for their patience, encouragement and professionalism.”
“This is all about veterans like James and his family. I’m grateful to EKU for their nationally recognized dedication to student veterans,” said Rep. Barr. “I’m pleased to see the impact this legislation is having on the lives of students participating in this scholarship program. We need the best and the brightest to fuel and power our economy. We need these in-demand skills. People who have been heroes and servants to our country bring to the table the ability to work as a team, to put a cause greater than themselves first.”
After exhausting his GI bill, Birdsong worried that lack of funds would mean he couldn’t finish his degree. His veterans affairs advisor reached out to him about the STEM scholarship and suggested he apply. “Unlike the GI bill,” he said, “this help was unexpected,” but the scholarship made all the difference.
“I’m proud to be a veteran of the U.S. Army. I’m proud of my service deployment to Baghdad. I’m proud to be a husband of my beautiful wife Lyndsay and Daddy to my smart, funny and goofy daughter, Clare and this December I’m going to add another accomplishment when I graduate from this university,” Birdsong said.
“On a personal level, it means I will be the first in my family to ever complete a bachelor’s degree. This dream has been over 10 years in the making. With a few twists and turns along the way, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Roy said. “On a professional level, I am incredibly thankful to use this scholarship to complete my EKU studies which will continue to help me better serve all those I encounter as a health care clinician.”
John Richerson and Nicholas Ellema, both working toward a bachelor’s of science in fire and safety engineering technology, and James Lowe, an occupational safety major, are also scholarship recipients.
“When we think about service, when we think about commitment to community, when we think about sacrifice, we can’t help but think about those who have served in uniform,” said interim president Dr. David McFaddin. “EKU is a school of opportunity, a place where people come to chase their passion to find their dreams to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That is the American dream.”
The five determined recipients of the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM scholarship, with the help and support of the EKU OMVA, their professors, advisors and a grateful nation, are making that American dream come true.