To commemorate Veterans Day 2022, we invited YES Prep alumni who are veterans or currently on active duty with the United States Armed Services to share their experience pursuing the military pathway after their graduation from YES Prep. We also asked them to share their advice for our students considering the military as a post-secondary option.
Master Sergeant Lucia Vasquez (né Serna) - Class of 2001
I graduated from YES Prep in 2001. I am proud to be part of the very first graduating class and to have served as YES Prep’s first-ever Student Council president. The school I attended, now known as YES Prep Southeast Secondary, was in the Second Ward in the parking lot across from Guadalupe Church.
From YES Prep to college to the military
After graduation, I attended the University of Houston’s Honors College but left the school after my freshman year because I couldn't afford to go to school without going into debt. I was working three jobs and going to school full-time just to make ends meet so I took a break. Unfortunately, the break was much longer than intended and I felt like I lost my focus and dedication to complete my degree.
I remember Mr. Chris Barbic, teacher and founder of YES Prep, had students sign a "contract" saying we would get a college degree. I know the contract was symbolic, but I always felt it was my duty to get my degree so I joined the military to help pay for school.
Life and service in the military
I enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Public Health Technician in October 2004 to take advantage of college benefits. I felt like I needed financial security to be able to pay for school and books without being a burden on my family. My original plan was to do four years and get out with my degree; however, that all changed after Hurricane Katrina.
I was part of the humanitarian response team that received critically ill patients flown in from Louisiana to San Antonio. Our team also set up camp to house the thousands of displaced people that were evacuated from New Orleans. I was eventually sent to Keesler Air Force Base in support of Operation Dragon Comeback where I used my public health expertise to help in the restoration efforts. In 2008, I deployed to Balad, Iraq as a Public Health Technician and then again to Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan as a Combat Advisor to the Afghan National Army in 2012.
Today, I live in Alexandria, Virginia with my husband, two children and mother. I am stationed at Joint Base Andrews -- Home of the Capital Medics! I earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from the American Public University System and I'm currently pursuing a master’s degree in Human Resource Management.
My advice for students considering a career in the military
The military is a great stepping stone, whether you consider doing it for four years or making a career out of it. I would recommend it to anyone who isn't sure what they want to do and needs time (and money) to figure it out.
I never thought I had the temperament to join the military; however, if I can do it, anyone can. The Air Force gave me the opportunity to be financially independent at a young age, complete a degree without student loan debt and travel the world. The best part of serving is the amazing people you will meet along the way from all walks of life.
Senior Airman Jacob Wells - Class of 2006
I graduated from YES Prep Southeast Secondary in 2006 and in the fall I attended the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. I finished a year and a half there before returning to Houston.
My pathway to the Air Force and return to college
After working for a few years, I swore into the United States Air Force in 2009 and went to basic training in 2010. I pursued a career in the military on a whim. A friend of mine considered joining and we went together to speak with a recruiter. I stayed in because I joined a challenging career field, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), which at the time had a 75% failure rate for trainees going through the program, and I wanted to challenge myself. I completed EOD school successfully and I went on to an exciting career in the United States Air Force.
After completing a six-and-a-half-year enlistment, I returned to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and
graduated from the University of St. Thomas' Peavy School of Nursing this year in 2022. I also joined the Texas Air National Guard. Now, I am an Emergency Room nurse with St. Luke's Hospital. I am currently activated on a state deployment in support of the United States Border Patrol as an Air National Guard service member.
For students considering joining the Air Force
My biggest piece of advice would be to save your money and utilize your military time to the maximum benefit. There are programs both in and out of the military that allow you to pursue your education, and there are plenty of opportunities to improve your life. For any students who are looking to join EOD specifically, I recommend that you engage in physical activity and strengthen your resolve so that you would not even consider quitting of your own accord.
One thing I would like to share with the YES Prep community about joining the military is that it can help you focus your talents. If students find themselves with a lot of potential but not a lot of direction, then the military would not be a bad option to try and focus them on something that they would more readily pursue. Also, school is a lot easier when you have a way to pay for it and a short enlistment would go a long way to providing life-long benefits. Finally, because I'm partial to the Air Force, I would recommend that branch above all the others.
Students, as you complete your time at YES Prep and are looking forward to higher education, know that there are other options beyond a four-year college or university, such as military enlistment and community college.
Military service as a pathway to college
YES Prep’s mission is to empower all Houston students to succeed in college and to pursue lives of opportunity. In Junior Seminar, our college preparatory course students take in 11th grade, all students explore the multiple pathways they have available to pursue lives of opportunity. One of the pathways students research is the military. For many, the military is not only a career move but also a path to pursue a college degree.
If you are a student who is considering the military as part of your path, speak to your college counselor about taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) this spring.
Students can explore multiple pathways to the military in Junior and Senior Seminar classes including appointment to a Service Academy, Enlistment and Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Interested students can explore a Service Academy appointment during the summer in order to experience the life of a cadet. Applications for these programs open for juniors in January and your college counselor will be able to help you apply.
To Vasquez, Wells and all our other alumni, staff and friends of our YES Prep community who have served our country, we thank you for your dedication and sacrifice.
We wish you a Happy Veterans Day!
About the Author
Alejandra Muñoz is a 2004 graduate of YES Prep Southeast Secondary, and YES Prep’s Director of Alumni Support. Alejandra earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in 2008 from Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration in 2014 from Baylor University.