Sarah Martin (’16) served for eight years in the Army, the only female in a small firefighters unit out of Yakima that also completed a tour in Afghanistan. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but, truth be told, what she really wants to do is serve veterans.
That’s what she did while working on her degree at Gonzaga – in a full-time position through AmeriCorps and the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s a social worker of sorts, helping vets and service members find the resources they need; like last fall when two students couldn’t make
their house payments and she connected them to the appropriate agencies. But the real purpose, says Martin, is to “Let them know their voices are being heard.”
She knows instinctively how important that is.
She also knows how hard it is for veterans and military service members to find their way within a college system geared to the traditional 18-year-old student. She understands that for many of them, getting a college degree is a “fallback” – something to provide work if they can’t continue doing whatever their primary passion may be.
For Martin, being a firefighter had been a childhood dream. After doing it in the military, however, she tried her hand with paramedic training. Ultimately, she was introduced to Gonzaga when she moved her sister here, and fell in love with the campus. She found criminal justice an interesting subject, but not nearly as fulfilling as the work she has done to support her fellow brothers and sisters.
Particularly important was the 22 Boot Display, a suicide awareness project. Did you know that 22 military members/veterans commit suicide every day? That’s something Martin wants us all to remember. She also wants us to remember the vets who are still among us, many of them struggling to find their way again.
“They’ve gone through a lot just to get here, to be students,” Martin says. “I want to recognize their success and their sacrifices both during and outside of school.”
She did that at the close of last semester. All 45 veterans and military service members in the graduating class received red, white and blue graduation cords at a special ceremony.
She also worked to help the University achieve a more accurate representation of its veteran population. Next on her dream sheet is revisiting a “Got Your Six” program (military lingo for “I’ve got your back”), which would help Gonzaga faculty and staff better understand the on-campus veteran population.
Martin says, “That will be huge, for more people to know how to offer their support.”
Sarah Martin has moved on, but the Transfer, Veteran and Returning Adult Services office continues her great work. Learn more here.