Second Chance for Success

The first time Matt Elyea ‘19 went to college he was “majoring more in fraternal organizations than academics.”

At 18, with an undiagnosed learning disability, the experience didn’t go as well as he’d planned. So he left college after one year to join the Air Force, a path he had admired in his grandfather, a brigadier general.

In the military, Elyea’s learning disability was diagnosed, and he found tools to help him overcome it.

“It was like the lights turned on,” he said.

His placement test scores were high enough to give him his pick of career paths, and he ended up working in aerospace physiology, training pilots and air crews to handle the physical stresses of flight.

“I got to teach people the affects on the body,” he said. “I’ve done things not everybody can say they’ve done: combat survival school, arctic survival school. I broke the sound barrier.”

Elyea served mostly stateside, both before and after 9/11 — and he saw the world change in that time.

“I volunteered to be trained as an EMT after Sept. 11. They needed all hands on deck,” he said. “I’ve followed that path every since.”

After leaving the military, Elyea spent 10 years working in medical staffing before deciding to try school again.

“The first round was not fun,” he said. “I struggled, but I know more now.”

He wants take his medical training to the next level by becoming a physician assistant, so he spent two years at Clackamas Community College, where he finished with a 4.0 GPA, the dean’s award for excellence in the sciences, and all-Oregon academic honors.

“It was a far cry from where I came from,” he said.

This time around, he has a wealth of life experience behind him, along with a wife and two children to keep him motivated.

“My wife is awesome. I drive an hour each way to school, and she takes care of the stuff at home. You don’t find that everywhere,” he said. “My oldest [daughter] has the same learning disability as me. I’m more motivated to show her she can take adversity and turn it into strength.”

This fall, Elyea transferred to Pacific University to study exercise science and continue his path toward, he hopes, the university’s master’s program in physician assistant studies.

“I was concerned about the price, but it ended up cheaper here than a public school,” he said. “Between the benefits from the military and scholarships, I have no out-of-pocket for the next three years.”

Tania Hand, a Pacific admissions counselor who recruits transfer students like Elyea, says that’s often the case.

Pacific participates in national tuition programs for veterans, including the Yellow Ribbon Program, and transfer students here are eligible for the same academic merit scholarship levels that incoming freshmen are.

Plus, Hand said, Pacific’s admissions staff takes the life experiences of military veterans into account as they consider prospective students.

For some, transcripts suffer due to college coursework being interrupted by deployment or the stresses of re-engaging in civilian life. Others, like Elyea, show clear before-and-after improvements in their academic performance due to military service.

“One thing I’ve learned as a nontraditional student, when you’ve lived life, the stresses of school are less,” he said. “School isn’t easy, but it’s not as bad.”

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