Kari MettsKari Metts, Veteran Outreach Coordinator for Concordia University

Veteran Kari Metts found career success through Concordia University's Master's Degree program in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education and her military experience.

What is my plan, and where will life take me?

This timeless question bounces around in everyone’s mind. For Army Veteran Kari Metts, she knew exactly what she wanted to do–and that plan did not involve joining the military. Yet, life’s unpredictable road led her to the Army, then to Concordia, and ultimately full-circle serving Veterans within Higher Education. Metts currently works in the Veteran Services Department at Concordia University, where she enjoys being able to give back to student and non-student veterans. She also teaches a 1-credit course in the MS in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education program on Veterans Services. 

Metts was able to fund her college education by joining the Army.  She served for 26 years.  After multiple roles, it was time for her to retire. Metts had the opportunity to reconsider the question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?” This is what led her to find Concordia.

After retiring from the military, Metts explored the Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education (SPAHE) program at Concordia University, where she could get a master’s degree to work in higher education. Metts was determined to use her GI Bill to find a way to work with students in a meaningful way. She graduated from that program in 2016 with her master’s degree.

After graduating, she was recommended for a full-time job at Concordia. Now, working at Concordia, she aims to help students excel in mind, body, and spirit. A GI Bill signed in spring 2020 now expands Veteran’s opportunities in higher education. and she helps prospective students help navigate this, among other, information. Wisconsin Veterans can get degrees at private schools while worrying less about the financial aspects. 

Read Metts’ story below to learn how her military background uniquely positioned her to pay it forward to student veterans looking to achieve their next goal at Concordia University.

Kari Metts’ journey from Soldier, to Student, to Higher Education

Finding a way to pay for school

My parents were part of the Great Northern Migration, coming to Milwaukee in November, 1965, from Tennessee.  Their main reason for moving, as with countless others, was for job opportunities and a better life, not only for themselves, but for their children.  My parents believed that for my sister and I, the only way for us to be successful was through education.  They sacrificed and enrolled us in private schools, because for them, private schools meant better.  After high school graduation, we were told that either we had to work or go to college.  If we were to go to college, we had to “figure it out” on our own, meaning that they could not afford to pay for our college tuition.

I received financial aid for college, but worked trivial jobs to have my own money and to contribute to the household.  When I was 23, I learned about the military from a recruiter who visited our house. SSG Thompson was a recruiter who did a home visit for my younger sister.  SSG Thompson was excited, seeing an opportunity to enlist two sisters–a “two for one.” I enlisted in September 1986.”

Creating opportunities when plans change

“Because I was a pound overweight, I could not enlist Active Duty.  I was angry, I gave up, and I made things very difficult for SSG Thompson.  I had planned on becoming a Spanish Linguist and to station in then SOUTHCOM (South Command, South America). I’d use my GI Bill towards a Spanish degree and move to Barcelona, Spain, where I had visited after high school.  Man plans; God laughs.  Instead, I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a 71L, Clerk Typist, because my score was low to become a Linguist.

I kept in touch with SSG Thompson while at BCT (Basic Combat Training) and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). I was still angry with him, especially after I could not start my AIT course as scheduled due to a delay from the prior group of Soldiers, which in turn delayed my return to start college.  I came home from my military training in March and SSG Thompson called, STILL determined for me to become Active Duty.  I refused because I did not want to leave my mother.  He guaranteed that I would not have to. SSG Thompson then told me about a program called AGR (Active Guard Reserve).  I could work for the National Guard, AGR, and receive the same benefits as an Active Duty Soldier, the difference being drilling one weekend a month and two weeks AT (Annual Training).  I was hesitant but agreed.  I interviewed for the position and was hired, stationed in Whitefish Bay, 57th Field Artillery Brigade.”

What do I want to be – Is it time for a career change?

“I spent twenty-six years in the military and gained experience working in a variety of duty positions:  Clerk Typist, Personnel Clerk, Administrative Specialist/Clerk, Aviation Operations Specialist, Training Sergeant, Combat Medic, and Senior Human Resources Sergeant.  You can imagine that I encountered a variety of Soldiers with a plethora of matching attitudes and personalities.

There’s a saying in the military, “When it no longer becomes fun, it’s time to leave.”  I was reaching that point.  I was dreading weekend drills and I was tired of working with so many different personalities. I enjoyed helping Soldiers in ways that could help them excel in their military careers, but I was getting frustrated.  On top of that, I was being told that I was up for relocation because I had spent longer than 3 years at one duty station.  My choices were to either PCS (Permanent Change of Station) or to retire.  In 2013, I retired, thinking I’d never work with Soldiers again, and I returned to school.”

Concordia was recommended as a place where I could thrive and use my GI Bill.

“My sister, a CUW Alum, recommended I check out Concordia.  I attended an Open House and was led to the Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education (SPAHE) Program.  At one point, I had wanted to become a teacher, but after completing a student teacher course, I knew that interacting with smaller sized students was not in my best interest.  The deciding factors, other than my sister, were the small class sizes, no GRE requirement, the opportunity to remain in the education field, and the fact that I could apply my Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay towards my degree.”

An Uncommon Experience Led to Student Personal Administration.

Barb Ellmaker was my angel during my time as a Student Veteran.  She was then, and remains still, helpful, kind, patient, knowledgeable, and professional.  I remember enrolling for the wrong 1 credit summer specialty course, and I felt so bad because I knew that I was causing Barb extra work.  I apologized and she assured me that it was okay and best that it was caught sooner rather than later.

Ed Garza, the Director during my time as a Student Veteran, was the one that I would talk to when Barb was busy or out of the office.  In between swapping military stories/experiences, he always asked what I did in the military. He would ask, “Did you like your duty positions?” and “How are your courses going?”

I told Ed that I thoroughly enjoyed my last duty position as the Senior Human Resources Sergeant because I felt like I was truly helping Soldiers by performing personnel and administrative duties that could help them excel in their military careers. Because I was not on campus during the day as a graduate student, Barb and Ed served as my examples of the care and support that students received and I was beyond impressed.

The military and the SPAHE program have been good to me.  I have been blessed and able to give back that which I have received, to help both Student Veterans and non-Student Veterans.

While in the SPAHE Program, I worked at a small, private institution, applying and learning more about SPAHE theorists, enforcing the importance and transformative power of education.  I had doubts concerning my writing skills, but when one instructor wrote on a paper that I was “in the right program,” and another wrote, “Kari, you’re a good writer,” those comments affirmed that I was “in the right program.”

The answer was military experience and a Concordia degree.

Ed contacted me when a position became available in the Veteran Services Department.  He encouraged me to apply because of my military personnel and administrative background, CUW Student Veteran experience and most importantly, the ability to communicate with female Student Veterans.  I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure about working with students.  I was hired; Ed and Barb were right and I’ve been enjoying my time as the Veterans Outreach Coordinator.

I have learned that my military experience, the one thing that I was trying to run from, was instrumental in my position, along with my SPAHE degree.  The military and the SPAHE program have been good to me.  I have been blessed and able to give back that which I have received, to help both Student Veterans and non-Student Veterans.

Kari Metts, CUW ’16, Veteran Outreach Coordinator

Does Kari Metts’ story speak to you?

Explore Concordia’s Veterans office here. Explore the Master’s program Kari Metts took, the Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education program, here.

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