Quincy College helps veterans succeed in their new mission: Getting a degree – The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY – No more getting up at 3 a.m. No more marching in formation. No more orders from superiors telling you where to go and what to do.
For some veterans, the transition from the military to college brings a freedom of choice they’ve been lacking.
“I don’t have to wake up too early,” first-year Quincy College student Taylor Ballinger, of Hyde Park, said, jokingly. “It’s less stressful. When you’re in school, you get to move on your own time. I’ve got so much more freedom here.”
For Ballinger and nearly 150 other veterans enrolled this fall, the relatively seamless transition to Quincy College has been no accident.
The school is one of only two colleges in the state (the other is UMass-Dartmouth) to receive a Gold designation from Military Friendly, a national organization that identifies schools, companies and other organizations that show a commitment to serving the military and veteran community.
One of the reasons for the Gold designation is that Quincy College has a staff member, Josie Smith, working full time on helping veterans navigate the maze of government education benefits.    
“She’s someone who’s incredibly dedicated (also incredibly modest) and gives these folks a level of individual attention that allows them to focus on their education and not worry about the red tape,” Quincy College spokesman Scott Pickard said. 
Ballinger and fellow veteran Jonathan Bell, of Bridgewater, said Smith helped them make a smooth transition to college life.
“She really cares,” Bell said of Smith. 
Smith said said she sees her work as a way to give back to veterans after they served the country.
Through two federal programs, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, millions of vets are eligible for benefits that help pay for tuition, fees, housing, books and supplies.
In the 2015-16 school year, 1 million U.S. veterans were using their benefits in undergraduate programs, and 241,000 were in graduate school, according to a March 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Education. By 2018, those numbers had dropped sharply, but the report didn’t say why.
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Ballinger, 22, served in the U.S. Army for three years before moving to Milton and enrolling at Quincy College, he said. He had worked as an Army mechanic in Tennessee, fixing air-conditioner units, generators and other tools soldiers relied on every day.
“I like to think that I had one of the most important jobs in the Army,” he said, “because when you’re in the field, if you ain’t got no generator, you ain’t got no power. And that’s pretty essential to the day-to-day living.”
Before he entered the military, Ballinger had spent a semester at Heidelberg University in Ohio studying and playing football as a linebacker and defensive end.
As he spent time at home during the pandemic, the Miami native thought about his future.
“I made a decision that I didn’t have to necessarily conform and be in the Army anymore,” he said. “That there were other things I could do with my life and branch out.”
Now Ballinger, who has relatives in Massachusetts, studies exercise science and plans to earn an associate degree at Quincy College.
“Quincy just felt like the right place to be,” he said.
In late October, Ballinger took his civil service exam. He wants to join the Boston Fire Department, which he calls “one of the best jobs in the country.”
Bell, 28, a Fort Worth, Texas native, spent six years in the Air Force working on fuel systems. He said he once worked in New Jersey refueling Air Force One.
In 2018, Bell was deployed in Qatar and he spent time in Afghanistan. After his deployment, he took a few classes on and off base through the Air Force. He thought about leaving the military and knew he wanted to go to school.
When his wife took a job in Massachusetts, everything fell into place, he said. 
Now, instead of working on planes, he’s newly married and balancing a full class schedule as he works toward graduating with an associate degree in business in May.
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Bell said he hopes to eventually study at Harvard Business School. He said he wants to start a business to help other veteran-owned businesses market themselves.
“How can we get more publicity out there to these veteran-owned companies?” Bell said. “I think the veterans really need the support.”
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Reach Alex Weliever at [email protected].

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