Finding her family again, veteran transitions to civilian life

Lisette Oler

Jillian Shrader no longer sets her alarm to 21:00 on a work day.

“[I love] waking up later [now],” Shrader said. “I get regular civilian hours. I don’t have to wake up at 9 p.m. and go to work, and I don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to school on time.” 

Shrader, an international relations and global studies and Middle Eastern studies junior, is a student veteran transitioning back into normal everyday life after three and a half years in the military. The shift can often be difficult for veterans because of the social differences between the two worlds.

“When you’re in the military, you form this sense of camaraderie and family with people all over the world,” Shrader said. “It can be difficult to go from being a part of a close knit group of people to being a very small fish in a very big pond.”

On Aug. 14, Shrader left the Air Force as an E4 Senior Airman in the linguistics department. She came to Austin on scholarship from the Air Force as part of a program to become a commissioned officer. For Shrader, attending UT is something she never thought possible. In 2012, she dropped out of college because her family couldn’t afford it.

“[I’m] going to a world-renowned institution of higher learning, and [I’m] able to afford it,” Shrader said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m not here just to get a piece of paper. I’m here to learn and absorb as much knowledge as I can.” 

Though she’s learning as much as she can, her biggest obstacle since leaving the Air Force is finding a sense of closeness equal to what she felt in the military among her fellow enlistees.

With the help of the Student Veterans Association, that transition is becoming a little bit easier. The SVA is a student organization that helps veterans build a social network and connect with available resources on campus. 

Upon learning Shrader would be coming to UT, the SVA reached out to her before orientation. Shrader said their interest was integral to her happiness on campus.

“Before I got overwhelmed by everything happening at orientation, I knew these people had my back,” Shrader said.

Daniel Leach, SVA president and electrical engineering graduate student, said the organization works to strengthen the lives of veterans on campus by helping them find that sense
of camaraderie they felt in military.

“Our number one goal is to build a better community on campus, where our veterans can support each other,” Leach said. “We want to connect them with resources available and that happens through the informal mentorship.”

This semester, they officially opened their membership to non-veterans. Vice president Derek Moniz said they did so in order for veterans and non-veterans to see their similarities as students. 

“We’re alike in so many other ways,” government senior Moniz said. “There’s a lot more likeness than there is difference.”

Shrader hopes that staying busy in Austin and at school will aid her transition. A Wisconsin native, Shrader fell in love with Austin when she was on assignment in San Angelo, Texas, in 2014. 

“My favorite part has to be, at this point, being around the University and the capitol,” Shrader said. “For me, that’s just such a cool experience — to be so close to these change-producing and policy-producing institutions.”