Adult learner paves new path in post-military life

Elizabeth Winter
November 02, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Life after the military can be a big adjustment for those who served and their families. Figuring out what to do next can sometimes be the hardest decision. For Ana Maria Calixto, a 28-year-old adult learner and Navy veteran, finishing her degree at Penn State was the best option she saw for her path of future success.

Calixto’s time at Penn State originally started in 2010 at the Mont Alto campus where she attended for a year but decided school was not the right path for her at that time.

As a child, Calixto said she remembers having a ‘romanticized idea’ of the military. Being exposed to military life through her uncle in the Marines and cousin in the Navy, the military was always an option in her future. After dropping out of college in 2011, Calixto told her mom that she was going to join the Navy, and spent four years stationed in Hawaii serving as a Gunner’s Mate working with vertical launching systems (VLS).

Gaining life skills and maturity are just two of the attributes Calixto credits to her time in the military. She said that while it was different when she was younger, she is now better able to be more level-headed and patient in life.

After her contract was up, Calixto felt her time serving was finished and that resuming her education was the next step as she transitioned back to civilian life. She spent two years at the Penn State Abington campus beginning in the fall of 2016, and now Calixto is a full-time student at University Park majoring in wildlife and fisheries science with a minor in art.

Some of the biggest blessings since coming back to Penn State for Calixto has been the ability to explore more of her art and passions. She said that she has enjoyed her ability to regrow and relearn herself as an individual, outside of military life.

After starting school again, Calixto said her work ethic and timeliness has greatly improved along with her studying skills.

In choosing Penn State as the place to start her new journey, Calixto attributed the decision to the military-friendly environment, the proximity to home and the ability to thrive within her agriculture-focused major.

She said that services like the veteran lounge make her feel more welcome, and that interacting with staff like Leslie Laing, director of the Adult Learner Programs and Services office, “helps you discover yourself.”

The Adult Learner Program and Services office, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs, provides information, resources and programs to assist adult learners navigate campus and balance competing priorities. Calixto said the office helped guide her to things like how to obtain a license, lists of different part-time opportunities while being in school and just overall encouragement and support during her time here.

After meeting with Laing throughout her transition, Calixto was motivated to attend the Student Leadership Conference, take on a leadership role in the adult student organization, participate on the Student Leaders Round Table and walk in the Homecoming Parade.

Laing provides advocacy, mentorship and programming for over one thousand nontraditional aged adults, student parents and veteran students. The Adult Learner Programs and Services office serves as a voice, Laing said, for adult and veteran concerns, and also helps with the transition from military to civilian life.

“Ana Maria not only served her country but she continues to serve our Penn State community and is a making a difference while she pursuits her degree.” Laing said.

For post-military life adults who are interested in jumping back into school, Calixto said picking a major you have interest in, learning from younger students, having open dialogue with your peers and exchanging advice is the best way to succeed.

In terms of advice to women in the ROTC program at Penn State, Calixto said to never give up, let your voice be heard, and know you are there for a reason.

After transferring from the Abington campus to University Park, Calixto said that “the Adult Learner office added to my adjustment by introducing me to a different view while living among a different generation of students and added to my realization that I can begin a fresh start as a civilian.”

Calixto plans to graduate in the Spring of 2020 and gain experience through an internship before moving on by utilizing Penn State’s global program and fellowship office. Working abroad is her end-goal, in working with wildlife rehabilitation or giving aid to those animals.

Last Updated November 02, 2018