Veterans Find Warm Welcome at Illinois Wesleyan

“Doc” Megan Schumacher ’18

 Megan Schumacher ’18

Schumacher’s story of why she joined the military has such a familiar ring it is almost a cliché. Wide-eyed high schooler wants to get out of her small town (Sigel, Ill. – population 386) to travel the world. Working at the local IGA grocery store, she struggles to pay tuition at the community college where she’s enrolled. The military becomes a viable option to achieve those goals.

“I just went down to the [U.S. Navy] recruiter’s office one day, and I ended up signing the papers without telling my parents,” Schumacher recalled. “They weren’t very happy about it, but I knew what I wanted to do, and I felt like that was the right direction for me.”

Schumacher had long been interested in the healthcare field. After basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago, she completed training as a hospital corpsman, which is an enlisted medical specialist of the U.S. Navy who serves with both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The colloquial term for a Marine to address a hospital corpsman is “Doc.”

After graduating from field medical training, Schumacher was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Her seven-month deployment to Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan began in July 2013.

There she saw firsthand the effects of war on people – her friends, soldiers she tended, Afghans and herself. Schumacher won’t talk much about those long, brutally hot days at Camp Leatherneck, except to say she’d go back tomorrow if called to do so. It’s where she realized she wanted to become a nurse. It’s also where she decided the best course of action would be to leave the military when her service was up — and return to college to become a nurse, with the ultimate goal of being a veteran nurse taking care of other veterans. Illinois Wesleyan’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which funds tuition and fees above the Post-9/11 GI Bill, takes care of her fees.

Discharged in August 2014, Schumacher chose Illinois Wesleyan’s nursing program based on its excellent reputation even though she was a little scared of her ability to handle the rigor of the curriculum . She was worried at first, wondering if a school with more resources devoted specifically to veterans might be better. She also felt concern about the age gap between her and her classmates (she is now 25 years old).

In the end, however, her direct admission to the nursing program – and the warm reception she received from faculty – trumped her concerns. Soon after applying to Illinois Wesleyan, SON Director Vickie Folse called Schumacher and invited her to visit the campus. “We talked about everything, whether it would be better for me to do a year at community college and then transfer in, because it had been so long since I’d been in school,” said Schumacher. “I told her I wanted to start fresh. I felt I was starting at the beginning [of the curriculum], just like everyone else, even though I had medical experience.

“This has been the best decision I’ve ever made,” she added. “The faculty here are amazing and they spend so much time with me and really care about me.”

She said that caring has extended far beyond one-on-one tutoring in the digestive system or large muscle groups. For example, her anatomy instructor, Associate Professor of Biology Will Jaeckle, helped her determine how she best processed and retained information, and also advised her she needed to extend herself a bit more to make friends.

“It took me a long time to have conversations with people,” admits Schumacher, who says very few students know about her military service or even how old she is. Large groups of people, and loud noises, are still a problem for her.

She wants Americans, regardless of their politics, to be a little more grateful for what they have, and what troops go through, and to not take things for granted – little things like a flush toilet and a hot shower; big things like independence and free expression.

She doesn’t talk about these things, however. She’s quiet, especially in groups, although she laughs easily in one-in-one conversation. She studies very, very hard for a “B” grade. A self-described “average” student in high school, Schumacher said her initial goal was just to get through. Now, the goal is to improve her grades each semester, while still working part time as an emergency room technician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center.

And on the days when it all seems too much – studying for tests, a shift at the hospital, flashbacks to Afghanistan – she remembers how far she’s come.

“The transition has been hard, but I think this has been one of the best things for me,” Schumacher said of her decision to attend IWU. “I thought I was a hard worker, but I’ve been pushed here beyond what I thought was possible. I’ve also made some amazing friends. I know I made the right decision.”