From the military to college: One K-State student’s non-traditional journey

Portrait of Justin Colby on Nov. 10, 2017. (Photo by Justin Wright | Collegian Media Group)

Transitions are a part of everyone’s lives, but for Justin Colby, a 24-year-old sophomore in open option at Kansas State, the transition to college carried more weight than a high school diploma; it carried four years of military experience.

Colby graduated from high school in Georgia in 2011 and was unsure of the direction he wanted to take.

Not long after graduating high school, Colby said he had a conversation with his mom, which made him realize that if he was going to serve in the military, it was then or never.

Flash forward to July 2012 when Colby shipped out, officially beginning his time in the military.

“I shipped, I did all my stuff and I instantly changed as a person,” Colby said.

Colby said the transition from being at home to serving in the army was smoother than expected because he went from having little structure to consistent, concrete structure.

“I kind of adapted really well. It was a perfect fit for me, like Cinderella to a slipper,” Colby said.

After four years of serving, Colby decided he was ready to leave the military. Knowing that college was his next step, Colby spent his first three months out of the military traveling to California and spending time with people who he met while serving.

After his three-month vacation was over, Colby moved to Kansas to begin another adventure: college. And a transition it was.

During his first semester at K-State, Colby struggled with finances, grades and feeling as if he belonged.

“I think the first semester or two for most veterans, there’s kind of this whirlwind experience and everything is crazy and there’s so much new information to absorb,” Jennifer Smith, Veterans Center staff member, said.

Colby is currently an open option major, but has switched his field of focus three times in his three semesters at K-State.

Curtis Taylor, sophomore in kinesiology, said while Colby may switch his area of study, he does not lack devotion.

“When we first met, he was kinesiology, and then just one day he was like ‘yeah, I’m doing aviation,’” Taylor said. “He was driving to Salina once or twice a week to do lessons. He jumped right in.”

While the transition to college life has not been easy, Smith said Colby is starting to find his groove.

“He’s not as scared to try and to fail or just try, period,” Smith said.

Regarding his grades, Colby said one of his goals for his upcoming years at K-State is to improve his grades.

“I take myself seriously, and I’m trying to transition that to my grades,” Colby said.

One way Colby is working to perform better in school is by seeking help within the Veterans Center.

Justin Manford, graduate student in public administration, said Colby will ask for help when he needs clarification, something that is not entirely common.

“Asking for help is something that one: societally we’re bad at, and two: veterans are even worse at,” Manford said. “So, the fact that he can recognize that he needs help in an area and ask for it, that’s just a sign of maturity.”

Looking back, Colby said he made the right choice by serving in the military before transitioning to college.

“The biggest part for me to do is to get out of my comfort zone while becoming part of something bigger. I wasn’t expecting to join the military at all, but I did. … I wanted to go somewhere else, so I did, and I’m glad I did.”