Classmates Band Together to Provide Support, Friendship in Master’s Program

By Margo Myers

They come from varied backgrounds and different parts of the country. They’re different ages, genders and race. But what’s drawn this group together is their pursuit of higher education, and the opportunity to ‘give back,’ especially to military veterans. And what’s transpired is a bond of friendship and support that lives even outside of the classroom. Meet three members of what Brandman University professors fondly call the ‘Band of Brothers and a Sister.’

Nicy (pronounced NEE-see) Bishop is the ‘sister,’ if you will, who was born in Haiti, moved to New York as a child, and joined the U.S. Army at age 17. She served 21 years, working in the medical field as a Health Services Officer in charge of running a medical facility. Bishop suffered a back injury while serving in Iraq, and when she went to the Veterans Administration for job help, they suggested she retrain. Bishop already had her four-year degree in Psychology, so she enrolled at Brandman University’s Lacey campus to obtain her Master’s degree in Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy. “I was already doing a lot of listening,” says Bishop. That’s where this mother of four met classmates, Dave McKenna and Calvin Wynn.

Dave McKenna hails from Concord, New Hampshire. Joining the National Guard, and then the U.S. Army because of what he describes as “limited career prospects” in his hometown, McKenna served for the next 27 years. He commanded a brigade from the 25th Infantry Division in 2004 – 2005 during combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan. Retiring as a Colonel, he ended his career in 2007 as Chief of Staff at Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis McChord. Holding three jobs in 5 years, he “didn’t like any of them.” That’s when he went to work “managing” his three adult children and his six grandkids. “I was looking for something to do,” says McKenna. “And I wanted to find a better way to treat veterans.” So he considered his options, found Brandman University to be military-friendly and diverse, and signed on for his MA in Psychology, calling it “a perfect fit.”

Calvin Wynn joined the U.S. Army after being raised in Vero Beach, Florida. He retired in August as a Master Sergeant after 29 years and four deployments around the world. Wynn worked in Logistics, with a degree in Technical Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Initially, Wynn says he explored being a social worker. But after checking various programs, Wynn enrolled in the MA of Psychology Program at Brandman, impressed by it being both “user and military” friendly. He, too, has a genuine desire to “give back to veterans and make a difference.” Wynn says, “If there are but one or two people I can help, it will make it worthwhile.”

Bishop, McKenna and Wynn are congenial, with some good-natured kidding back and forth. Participation in a group therapy class led to their growing bond, where they got to know each other in ways typical students don’t. “In that class, there are few secrets,” says McKenna. Now, these three and several other students are helping each other through the rigorous course work to achieve their graduate degrees. Bishop has been dealing with family health issues, and admits, without the extra encouragement from the group, she “would have already taken a break.”

“The guys would call wondering where I was if I missed class,” says Bishop. “There’s encouragement, and they’re all looking out for me. We’re even friends on Facebook.”

Wynn, too, says he might have chosen a different route, if not for the extra support. “It’s the camaraderie of the students and staff who want to help us,” says Wynn. “Professors want to make sure no one falls behind.”

McKenna says his previous university experience at the War College was the most “miserable experience of my life” because it was so competitive. “Here, it’s about learning more than about your GPA,” he says. “Now it’s fun to/go to school again.”

In fact, both McKenna and Wynn have signed up for Brandman’s Ed. D. program, while Bishop will be pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychology at Fielding University. They all plan to use their expertise and what they’re learning to help other veterans. Bishop sees herself working with the VA or with cancer patients. McKenna’s goal is to work with veterans with PTSD or substance abuse issues. Both McKenna and Wynn would like to assist those in the Wounded Warrior Project.

While their classes will eventually conclude, the friendships they’ve built will live on. The others nod in agreement when McKenna says, “This has been so rewarding, I don’t want it to end.”

Published on pages 3 and 16 of FTE Magazine, November 2013