Around the World and Back: One Veteran’s Journey to a Degree

At Indiana Wesleyan University, we are forever grateful to the millions of service members who have protected our freedom and made countless sacrifices on behalf of our country.

By: Bailey Gerber & Jake Hreha

At Indiana Wesleyan University, we are forever grateful to the millions of service members who have protected our freedom and made countless sacrifices on behalf of our country. We remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we respect those who carry the weight of war with them.

Military Service Members Each Have a Story

In honor of Memorial Day, we’re proud to share the story of Command Sergeant Major E9 Steven Shepherd, a retired army veteran with 35 years of service who traveled the world before earning his degree. This spring, he completed his associate degree in public service & management – and he even gave the commencement speech at his graduation. Today, he’s working on his bachelor’s degree and isn’t planning to stop until he earns his MBA. Here’s how he went from the army to the classroom.

After graduating from high school, Shepherd enlisted in the army immediately. He was stationed in Oklahoma, Alaska, and Kentucky before serving in Germany. “I was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989,” he says. “That was an incredible experience. I still have a piece of the wall today.”

In the 90s, Shepherd took a break from the Army to stay in Europe. When he returned to the U.S., he enlisted in the Army National Guard. He found himself serving both at home and abroad in the wake of 9/11. He did peacekeeping tours in Kosovo and Bosnia, along with combat operations in Iraq. Back in the United States, he was part of response teams following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Shepherd retired from the army in 2020, and in June of 2021, a family tragedy reset his perspective. “I lost my younger brother to a 20-year battle with addiction,” says Shepherd. “His loss was one of those moments in life that made me think about my purpose. I go to church; I’ve toured ancient ruins in Philippi; I’ve seen soldiers baptized there. But I wanted to start taking a more personal approach to my faith.”

Finding the Best Colleges for Veterans

Before Shepherd retired, the military was his mission. After his brother’s death, he began looking for a new mission. “I started researching tons of colleges, but the connection just wasn’t there,” Shepherd says. He was looking for the best colleges for veterans. “I was talking to administrators who weren’t military veterans. They didn’t speak ‘the language’ or offer opportunities for student veterans to put military training toward degree credit.”

As Shepherd searched for the right fit, he stumbled across an ad for IWU. “When I reached out to connect, IWU was so responsive,” Shepherd recalls. “KC Haight [Executive Director of Military Relations] replied to me within 12 hours. Right away, it felt different. KC is a veteran, too, and he told me all about IWU’s programs.”

At 56 years old, Shepherd enrolled in his first college class. “I had some anxiety about starting college,” says Shepherd. “But my advisor framed everything for me and showed me how I could make the schedule work. The resources available to me were incredible.”

Shepherd specifically appreciates the way his classes allow him to integrate both his military experience and faith. “There’s always an experience from my life that I can connect to the concepts in my classes,” he says. “Plus, my classes always have a spiritual element, showing me how I can apply my faith to everything I do.”

A Future for Student Veterans

Looking to the future, Shepherd is excited to earn his MBA through IWU and move on to the career opportunities ahead. He hopes to impact other veterans like himself. “I’ve fallen in love with IWU and what I’m doing with them,” he says. “I’d love to talk to soldiers who are retiring and help them make decisions about what’s next.”

Active duty service members don't always know all the options they have after the service. Many military students are pleased with the education benefits and veteran services universities like IWU offer. There are a number of higher education institutions that offer military specific resources, financial assistance, campus life, and more for military students. Veterans Affairs can be a helpful first point for finding veterans services such as education benefits.

Steven Shepherd is one of many veterans who have found the perfect degree program at IWU. We’re honored to be part of his story – and if you’re an active-duty service member or a veteran, we’d love to be part of yours. Learn about our military-specific programs and offerings here.

Bailey Gerber

Content Creator, IWU-National and Global

Bailey Gerber is a vocabulary geek and grammar enthusiast at IWU – National and Global, so she spends most of her time writing and reviewing webpages, video scripts, flyers, and – of course – blog articles. She loves all things involving words, and in her spare time you’ll find her buried in a book (probably with a cup of coffee in hand).

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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