From Boots to Books


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Trading One Calling for Another

LOOKING AT Ashley Tuttle '17 in her neatly pressed white chef coat and checkered pants, it’s hard to fathom the petite brunette, at 5-feet 2-inches, once wore a uniform of a different kind.

“I feel like it’s shocking when people find out that I’m a veteran,” says Tuttle. “I don’t look or act like a normal veteran, so I think they are very taken aback.”

The baking and pastry arts student never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, yet she still served her country during a time of war, which means she brings a unique set of life experiences and perspectives.

The decision to enlist resulted from a desire to find herself. After her mother died in a car accident when Tuttle was 14, she “got into some trouble in high school; when it came time to apply for college, I wasn’t set up for anything,” she says. “My family had no money so college wasn’t really an option.”

Tuttle, now 25, found herself in an Army recruiter’s office simply to support a friend. But then she became intrigued, thinking the military might provide direction. She was interested in becoming an MP (Military Police), but there were no jobs available then. She was selected to become an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician, a job described by the military as a “warrior, properly trained, equipped, and integrated to attack, defeat and exploit” explosive devices and weapons of mass destruction.

Boot camp and being only one of two females in her platoon was nothing compared to nine months of EOD tech school, where failing even one test could mean flunking out of the program. Tuttle was one of four who ultimately passed in their original group of 15 students.

As an official EOD tech, she performed security operations at the highest level — protecting the president of the United States. Tuttle worked alongside the Secret Service for three years to provide advance security detail abroad and at presidential events across America. One such assignment took Tuttle to Brazil, where President Obama met with its president, Dilma Rousseff, for the first time. He made public speeches about colonialism, freedom and the American Dream, and toured the country’s historical sites with his family.

Before the First Family visited Christ Redeemer Hill, the summit of a national park overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the area was closed to allow Tuttle, her partner and a bomb-sniffing dog to ensure there were no security issues or bombs at the site.

Of course, there were also some not-so-glamorous aspects to the job: sweeping buildings, opening drawers and checking light switches.

During her spare time, she made cakes and cookies for her crew, who presented her with a baking mixer plaque to commemorate her service when her military time ended. Her commander suggested she look into Johnson & Wales’ College of Culinary Arts to pursue her passion. Fortuitously, Tuttle had already made plans to move to Colorado Springs, Colo., and realized that JWU had a Denver campus.

It was there that Tuttle made her first loaf of bread, which shifted her path in baking and pastry away from desserts. “I didn’t know I loved bread until I came here,” she says. “Bread is universal; it appeals to everyone.” She’s put her skills into practice at a local bakery. Even though she has to get up for the 2am shift, sometimes squeezing in a nap before her afternoon labs, it’s a labor of love.

I didn’t know I loved bread until I came here. Bread is universal; it appeals to everyone. ASHLEY TUTTLE '17
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Transitioning to the Classroom

Now a sophomore, Tuttle represents a growing number of military veterans who have transitioned into the classroom. Institutions across the country are seeing an influx of military veterans due to the drawdown of troops overseas. From 2009–12, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided educational benefits to 773,000 veterans and their dependents using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

This trend can be seen at Johnson & Wales’ four campuses, where veteran enrollment has skyrocketed. Since the Post 9/11 GI Bill was introduced in 2009, there has been a 189% increase in veteran and dependent enrollment universitywide.

In addition to the GI Bill, veterans can get the balance of their tuition paid through the university’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon program. In this endeavor, the university contributes up to 50 percent of the student’s remaining balance of tuition and fees and the federal government matches it dollar for dollar.

Universitywide, the Denver Campus has the highest concentration of student veterans and dependents, representing 8.6% of the total student body. Charlotte is second at 8.2%, followed by North Miami at 4.25% and Providence at 2.65%.

While Tuttle was excited to attend college, the transition wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, so to speak. The problems didn’t have anything to do with getting into the rhythm of labs or doing the homework — they were relating to her classmates.

Her predicament is reflective of the widening gap between those who served and civilians. For nearly two generations, America’s armed forces have represented a volunteer effort, and few actually do volunteer. According to the Department of Defense, since the US went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, about 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in those wars.

Yet, military personnel represent less than .05% of the US population, compared to more than 12% during World War II.

“I’m going to school, I’m not going to college,” says Tuttle. “There’s that stereotype of college — partying, drinking, being in the dorms — but that’s not my idea of it, which creates a huge barrier. The first year, my age was definitely an issue. My social life was pretty much nonexistent, and it was really hard to connect with people.”

During her second term, Tuttle met two classmates who were also older than the traditional first-year students — one a civilian and the other a medically retired Navy veteran. As the 3 bonded, Tuttle realized she was probably not alone in feeling challenged by the switch from the military to college. She describes other veterans who struggled with loud noises in the culinary labs and had to step out for a moment, only to have the rest of class stare.

“There’s a lack of knowledge about veterans … I feel like some students are very uncomfortable; they don’t know how to react and are scared to engage us,” says Tuttle. “We don’t expect everyone to understand.”

Brian Lyninger, assistant director for Campus Safety & Security at the Denver Campus, is familiar with the divide between veteran and civilian students. A decorated US Marine who served in the Iraq invasion, Lyninger currently serves as a staff advisor for student veterans.

“What’s stressful for a teenager in the military is completely different than what’s stressful for an 18 or 19-year-old in college,” says Lyninger. “The military students have a hard time understanding why their classmates are stressed out over a simple test. And those classmates are wondering why the military student is being so bossy.”

Ellas Ware, a first-year Denver Campus culinary arts and food service management student and US Marine Corps reservist, describes a disconnect between the military culture he experienced for a decade compared to the classroom environment.

“It’s that life experience that these 17-to 18-year-olds don’t have,” says Ware. “When I talk to them in the kitchen, they are my equals. When they don’t move with a purpose, I want to talk as if they are one of my Marines, but I can’t. For someone coming from the tight-knit structure of active duty, sometimes it’s hard to bite your tongue.”

In her quest to support other veterans, Tuttle became involved with The Student Veterans’ Organization. When she learned the campus club had dissolved after the students involved had graduated, she felt almost obliged to restart it. But growing the base — even with help from other vets — was difficult. Unless people self-identify with the club, they don’t know who the population is and how to support them.

“Veterans are generally pretty isolated,” says Tuttle. “Most of us are commuters. We’re older and we don’t want to stay on campus longer than we need to or return at 8pm for a social gathering.”

However, that hasn’t stopped her recruitment efforts. “Sometimes I’ll see someone with a camo-backpack and ask if they’re a veteran. If they say yes, then I tell them they should join the club,” says Tuttle. “My number one goal is participation and to support each other, even if it’s just on an emotional level.” The group can also help members navigate GI Bill challenges, find resources on campus and share knowledge about course credits earned from their service in the military.

Since the club was officially sanctioned in fall 2013, its several members have rallied together, including hosting two events to feed homeless veterans, an initiative started by Prince Thomas '15, a culinary student with 24 years in the Army. Tuttle envisions a legacy that she can help grow even after graduating.

While Denver is currently the only campus to have an official student veteran organization, there has been a universitywide movement to create an inclusive, welcoming environment for student veterans.

As an officially-designated “Military Friendly®” institution according to Victory Media, JWU ranks in the top 15% of military-friendly schools nationwide. An orientation session designed just for incoming veteran students is held at certain campuses. The Providence Campus recently created a designated student veteran space at the Downcity Campus in the Larry Friedman Entrepreneurship Center and the campus has a Supporting Veterans Committee comprised of faculty and staff — most of whom have served in the military.

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An Army of Support

In 2013, the Denver Campus received a grant to fund a student veteran success coordinator. For the past year, Floyd Brown, a retired staff sergeant who served 16 years in the US Army, has supported Denver student veterans with career readiness and outreach.

“Every veteran’s situation is different based on what they’ve been through in the military,” says Brown. He sees many students struggle with less structure as they transition. “The military term is ‘Dress Right Dress’ — you know when you get up what your day is, Monday through Friday,” says Brown. “Student veterans know their class schedule, but they don’t have their section chief, squad leader or platoon sergeant telling them what to do.” However, Brown adds, “Whenever a veteran is having a problem, the staff and faculty are always right on it to correct the problem and help with the transition challenges.”

Indeed, JWU has a long history of providing a support system to student veterans. Edward Triangolo and Morris Gaebe, who purchased Johnson & Wales Business School for $25,000 in 1947, were both World War II veterans. They revised the school’s curriculum to provide the skills that returning veterans needed to succeed in a postwar world.

According to the book, “Johnson & Wales: A Dream that Became a University,” veteran students were also instrumental in transforming Johnson & Wales from a secretarial school to a business college following the Korean War, when it began to offer career-oriented courses for those veterans. “While many schools did little or nothing about [new legislation that provided additional educational benefits to veterans who served from 1955–66] President Morris Gaebe, along with then-Vice President John Yena and Dean John McNulty, realized the great opportunity existed because of the bill,” the book states. “Johnson & Wales made an all-out effort to make veterans aware of their potential benefits and to persuade them to come to college.”

As a result, programming was created to support them, including reduced tuition rates and a two-year management program called VIP (Veterans Introductory Program) that attracted thousands of veterans. In 1971, a weekend program was created that enabled veterans to attend but keep their full-time jobs. “Johnson & Wales has a demonstrated history of looking at the needs of transitioning veterans and tailoring itself to support their needs instead of forcing the students to meet the needs of the institution,” says Ed Lizotte, JWU’s first director of military student recruitment and services. “The university is uniquely suited for supporting veterans with a 100-year model for experiential learning. In the military, it’s what we call performance training: See it. Learn it. Do it. Practice it. It is directly tied to experiential learning where our students are engaged in classes and not bored by a lecture.”

In this newly created role based at the Providence Campus, Lizotte — a former infantry officer in the Army and National Guard — oversees the recruitment of military and veteran students for the College of Online Education. He also collaborates with other departments to ensure all veterans and military students succeed, whether they are taking classes online or in the classroom.

“After I was hired, I got 54 emails from various faculty and staff, asking how they can help with this initiative,” says Lizotte. “The culture of the institution really determines if you are military friendly. We have such an embedded culture for serving this population, and it’s very refreshing.”

Tuttle also describes having a support system since day one, with resources that include campus leadership, the student veteran success coordinator, and VA certifying officials in Student Financial Services. “I don’t think the responsibility is on the faculty to unite the student veterans,” she says. “It’s on us as a club to provide a foundation of ongoing support. It’s also important to show the regular student body that we’re not this foreign group.”

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