Student-soldiers feel supported by NSU, S.D. Army National Guard

Three soldiers walking on the NSU campus

Pictured, left to right: Spc. Crystal Cook, Pfc. Kealy Hill and Spc. Marissa Hanley

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Being a student and a soldier has been a great experience for Spc. Crystal Cook, Spc. Marissa Hanley and Pfc. Kealy Hill—and all three said they’ve felt supported by both Northern State University and the South Dakota National Guard.

Cook, a junior communications major from Parker, said her professors have been supportive.

“When I had to miss class for drill, they were super understanding and made sure to post their lectures on D2L so I could watch them,” said Cook, who serves with the 740th Transportation Company, based in Aberdeen.

Hanley, a senior music education major from Chester, serves with the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 147th Army Band, based in Mitchell. Her unit commander is Dr. Terry Beckler, Northern’s percussion instructor, and she said since all her professors work with Beckler, they understand when she has to be gone for Army Band performances.

“They’re great at working with my schedule,” Hanley said.

Hill, a senior sports marketing and administration and exercise science major from Gillette, Wyo., also said faculty members have been supportive.

“This year, I went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) and I missed the first four weeks of school,” said Hill, who serves with the Guard’s 665th Maintenance Company, also out of Mitchell. “They gave me time to catch up on everything and had alternate assignments.”

Likewise, she said, the Guard is also very supportive and understanding of her athletic schedule with the Wolves track and field team. Hill said she chose to attend Northern because of her track coach, and also because it was the right distance from away from home.

Hanley came to Northern for the music program.

“I play the trumpet in the band here and the Army, so I came for the trumpet professors that we have and all the performance opportunities,” she said. “They have a great education program and a really great music education program.”

Cook chose Northern because it’s close to her Guard unit, but also because of the small school atmosphere.

“I love the small atmosphere,” she said. “That’s probably the best part about Northern. Because even the professors you don’t know will still look at you and smile. People actually care about you succeeding and it’s more open communication in classes, and you’re not nervous to speak up in class or ask questions in class.”

Hill, too, said she likes the small class sizes because she’s had classes since freshman year with everybody who’s in her major. She’s also had great opportunities through the track team.

Hanley said all the musical opportunities have been the best part of attending Northern.

“It’s a smaller atmosphere so I don’t have to just pick one or two things to be involved in,” she said. “If I can make time for it in my schedule, I can do as many things as I want. I think that’s a really great experience for right now and then being an educator in the future.”

For other students considering military service, the students shared advice.

“Just do it because it is just a small portion of your time,” Hill said. “And then you’re going to get aid with school and everything.”

She said it’s manageable, even if you’re an athlete like she is. Cook added that although people think it’s going to take up a lot of time, she did the math: It’s actually only 38 days out of 365 that you’re in uniform.

“It’s a hard decision to make for a lot of people but you’re going to go through so many things and experience so many things that such a small percentage of the population gets to experience,” Cook said. “And you get to take that with you for the rest of your life, and nobody gets to take that away from you.”

Cook also advised students to utilize every benefit offered to them.

Hanley’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions because there’s lots and lots of things that can help you throughout the entire experience. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people because they also have great advice on how to manage everything.”

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About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $150 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions