CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Tribune News Service) — As a child, Kim White saw her dad, a Vietnam veteran, struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I saw firsthand how it really affected his life,” she said. “It affected my life from a very early age.”
Now, White is passionate about helping other veterans as they transition to civilian life after leaving the military.
White became interim director of military and veterans affairs at Marshall University in July. In October, she was chosen by the search committee to permanently hold the position.
After she left the Navy, she dealt with some of the same struggles her students deal with every day.
“I had advocates when I was coming through school,” she said. “It’s great to be able to give back in that way.”
White is also a doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction at Marshall.
“I can empathize with the students and the stressors involved in pursuing school, work and family goals, and how experience as a veteran — the military training one receives — factors into success in higher education,” she said. “The veterans see me studying, bemoaning a huge assignment, prioritizing my time and resources, and working hard to the end of the semester.
“Veterans and active-duty students alike know I have walked and continue to walk along a path similar to their own and that shared experience is priceless when establishing rapport and building relationships, which are the keys to our collective success as students and as a university.”
White, a native of Athens, Ohio, dropped out of Ohio University her senior year in 1994 after experiencing burn-out.
“I was ready for an adventure out in the world with new scenery and new people,” she said.
She found that adventure in the Navy. Her first duty station was Diego Garcia, which is considered isolated duty because the base is positioned on an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean 3,000 miles away from land.
She met her husband, Dr. Chris White, there. White is associate professor of history at Marshall. At the time, he was stationed on Diego Garcia with a U.S. Marine Corps Security Force unit.
After leaving Diego Garcia, they were married, and then went on separate deployments — Chris to Japan, Kim to Rota, Spain.
In 1998, when their enlistments were up, both enrolled at Humboldt State University in northern California, and both were employed as work-study students in the Veterans Upward Bound program.
Kim graduated from HSU with a teaching credential in secondary education, and Chris was accepted by the University of Kansas in its Latin American Studies program.
They moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where Kim taught English for two years before returning to the university to earn a master’s degree in social work. White says the decision was one of the best in her life.
In May 2006, Chris graduated with his Ph.D. in Latin American History. He accepted a position in the history department at Marshall.
“We arrived in Huntington in August 2006, with our newborn sons Vincent and Mason, and we were embraced as family by faculty and staff in the history department,” she said.
In October 2009, Kim accepted a position in the counseling center at Marshall.
“My practice as a mental health specialist in the counseling center gave me a peek into the individual lives of students, to better understand the challenges they face and the strength they have to overcome those challenges,” Kim said. “I am so grateful for my time at the counseling center because my experiences there grew me both personally and professionally and prepared me for my new role on campus.”
White’s jobs involves plenty of meetings. She spends hours every week meeting with representatives from other departments at the school, hoping to build connections so she can be a better advocate for veterans.
“My goal is to use evidence-based approaches to promote veterans’ interests on campus while building meaningful relationships with faculty, staff and administration on behalf of veterans, active military and their families so students feel supported in the classroom and on campus,” she said.
But her first priority is to the veterans themselves.
The first thing she does each morning is check her email. No matter how many veterans have sent an email asking for help, no email goes answered.
She also spends much of her time meeting privately with veterans who need assistance.
“Nobody that comes to my office gets the feeling they’re being rushed out,” she said.
©2016 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)
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