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Air Force veteran finds support after transferring to York College

Brandon Shaffer poses with his mother at a table.
Brandon Shaffer pictured right.

The course of Brandon Shaffer’s life changed with a cold call from a military recruiter. Brandon, then a senior in high school, was already a little unsure what he would study if he went straight to college. After talking with the recruiter, Brandon liked what the guy had to say and thought joining the military made sense. He’d go on to spend five years in the Air Force as a Chinese linguist.

Later, he faced the challenge of transitioning back to life as a civilian and starting college after most people his age had already graduated.

Finding support

If you’re in a typical Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, it’s fairly easy to figure out who’s been in the military. (Spoiler: It’s pretty much everyone.) But on a college campus? That’s tougher.

That’s why the veterans’ dinner York College hosted during Brandon’s orientation was helpful. It allowed the veterans to meet one another and spend time with other people who may have faced similar struggles going to college after life in the military. “I think York College, in particular, has a lot of support for veterans,” Brandon says. “And it seems genuine.”

That support was especially helpful because going from military service to life as a student isn’t easy. “It’s not the most fun transition,” Brandon says. He went from being an adult earning a paycheck with a wife and mortgage, to having a much smaller paycheck and being surrounded by peers who had not experienced life in the real-world as he had.

Brandon wasn’t deployed during his time in the Air Force, but he says that if he was, he probably wouldn’t talk to civilians about any baggage he carried. He’d be looking for support from other veterans. That’s where the new veterans’ lounge at the College comes into play. It’s only accessible to veterans holding a key card to get in. The lounge is another place where they can just be themselves with people who can better understand their experiences.

Transferring in

Brandon transferred to York College with credits from the Community College of the Air Force and Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). At York College, they made it easy for him to jump right into the semester. Katie Schwienteck, Associate Registrar, who assists transfers with course registration and serves on the Transfer Resource Center team, helped him get all the classes he wanted, even though he’d been late applying.

“At York College, the community is a lot smaller, but there is support there for veterans,” he says, “and that’s really helpful for someone transitioning to civilian life.” Brandon, now in his junior year, is studying Computer Science. He likes it a lot more than he liked Chinese linguistics.

“I enjoy the problem-solving part of computer science,” he says. “I like the challenge and feeling of accomplishment.” The practical approach, learning by doing, comes naturally to him. He’s just starting an internship with Sapio Sciences in York, and he hopes that might turn into a career when he graduates in December 2020. And, although he’s transitioned into civilian life, he’s still connected to the military as a member of the Air National Guard.

It hasn’t always been easy, but he’s happy with the choices he’s made. They led him to where he is now — getting his education debt-free at a college that values and supports him and his fellow veterans.