The modern Florida Polytechnic University campus surrounded by sprawling farmland in Lakeland, Florida, is far removed from the submarines and military bases where one group of student veterans were stationed prior to enrollment.
But their experiences in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Army National Guard have shaped the determined way they approach their studies at Florida Poly.
This Veterans Day, four student veterans pursuing their education at the University reflect on their service and their experiences as nontraditional college students.
Sidney Ang, Army
Ang’s Army job as an aviation structural mechanic pushed him to find ways to repair and maintain military aircraft, often improvising the solutions. As a mechanical engineering senior at Florida Poly, he’s now building on that knowledge.
“I loved that job,” he said. “It’s like the same work I’m doing now, but now I’m understanding why I had to do things a certain way for them to work.”
Ang, originally from the Philippines, said he often cites his actions in the military as examples for other students to have an idea of the real-world applications of their lessons.
Ang, 42, was early in his Army career when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. He was badly injured during a parachute accident in preparation for deployment and was eventually medically discharged in 2006.
After being homeless and suffering with an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury, he connected with a doctor who helped him get the medical attention he needed, and he redirected his future. Now, he plans to complete his degree this spring and begin working on a bachelor’s in electrical engineering.
“Florida Poly was really nice and took a chance on me,” Ang said. “If I had done this right out of high school, I would not have the discipline to do the work I’m doing now.”
Kevin Wanzie, Navy
For Wanzie, joining the Navy gave him an opportunity to explore his interest in nuclear engineering right after high school.
“It was basically a free trial run to try it and see if I like it instead of going to college for it and deciding I don’t like it,” the mechanical engineering sophomore said.
Wanzie, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, worked on nuclear-powered submarines and received in-depth education in nuclear engineering while enlisted. He was discharged in 2017.
At 27, he now is pursuing an interest in nanotechnology and hopes to continue his education through graduate school with his GI Bill.
“Coming back at 26, I’m here to learn,” Wanzie said. “I view it as my job. I’m here to reach the next step in my life.”
This Veterans Day, he said other sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines should receive recognition for their service.
“Other people did more work and paid more of a price than I did. I just showed up and did my job,” Wanzie said.
Robert Shynski, Army National Guard
Shynski hopes his military background and active security clearance combine with his education to help him stand out to Lockheed Martin, the global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technologies company.
“A lot of the individuals Lockheed takes can’t really work on some projects or do much because they don’t have the clearance, which takes about six months as a civilian,” the computer science junior said. “I would have an advantage: prior military, group and leader oriented, have a security clearance so I can actually work on the stuff they’re working on.”
Shynski, from Port Richey, Florida, was discharged in May of 2019 after a back injury and has focused on transitioning to civilian life after six years in the military.
“I’m trying to transition from being very strict, very stern, and very straightforward to understanding leniency and that some of the individuals going to college straight out of high school don’t understand that structure or personal development yet,” he said.
However, his background is helping him succeed at Florida Poly.
“Being an infantryman, our whole job is how to handle stress,” Shynski, 25, said. “I know how to do leadership and group projects and am very keen on getting assignments and projects done ahead of time to complete the mission as fast as possible.”
Stephen Andrews, Navy
Andrews was considering enrolling in a nuclear-focused college program in 2011 when he was approached by a Navy recruiter who told him all about the branch’s nuclear program. The program and benefits were appealing, so he signed up.
“It turned out I was kind of smart and they accepted me into the nuclear program,” the mechanical engineering sophomore said.
He soon was an electrician aboard a nuclear-powered submarine.
“I loved it a lot, but I also disliked it. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of not fun,” he said.
Andrews, who is originally from Augusta, Georgia, has a passion for space and hopes to find a career with NASA after graduation, but at the moment he is enjoying his time at Florida Poly.
He and Wanzie served on the same submarine together and they continue working together on their studies at the University. Andrews said he is happy about where he decided to pursue his education.
“I like the small, cozy atmosphere here. It’s like being on subs – a close atmosphere,” he joked.
Andrews, 27, said Veterans Day pushes him to remember the time he spent in the Navy and take advantage of the perks offered to veterans at businesses in the Lakeland, Florida, area.
“I never forget about it, but the day definitely reminds me,” he said.
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