The Mission Ahead: Evergreen prepares veteran couple to report for medical duty

August 25, 2017

After serving two tours as an Army Ranger medic overseas, Alexander Jeffrey returned home to a frustrating new challenge. More than anything, he wanted to continue saving lives in his civilian career. But he couldn’t find a college that would honor his prior experience.

“Other schools I looked into would only award up to 35 credits for my military training,” Alexander says. “And I’d been through the Special Operations Combat Medic program, which is the Army’s premier enlisted medical school. I spent two deployments taking care of 200-plus guys.”

Alexander and his wife, Summer Jeffrey, a member of the National Guard with extensive Army medical training of her own, believed their experience was worth significantly more than 35 credits. They pored over course catalogs and scoured college websites for better options—but to no avail. 

That’s until the couple’s landlord suggested they look into The Evergreen State College.

“We hoped Evergreen would be the right fit because it’s right down the road from JBLM,” Summer says. “The more we learned about the Veterans Resource Center and evening and weekend class options, the better it all sounded.”

For Summer and Alexander, Evergreen offered much more than just a veteran-friendly campus environment. The time-to-degree impressed them as well. “Evergreen gave me 110 credits—many of them at the upper level,” Alexander says. “Coming here was a no-brainer.”

New Recruits

The couple anticipated a jarring culture shock when they started at Evergreen, and that’s just what they got.

“They treat you like an adult here,” Alexander says. “You learn to respect others’ opinions. The biggest thing is you’re encouraged to think for yourself.”

And Evergreen’s intimate learning environment set it apart from the large universities Summer and Alexander had attended in the Midwest.

“That’s something I really like about Evergreen,” Summer says. “Coming from that traditional college where you’re just one person in a lecture hall of 400, where the professor doesn’t know who you are, this place is completely different.

“You come here and there are 20 people in your program,” she continues. “The professor gets to know you, and you make friends who share your passion. Your studies apply to your daily life. So you’re not just reading out of a textbook, taking a test, and then brain-dumping it. You’re actually using it.”

Summer and Alexander both work full time. Thankfully, they found that evening and weekend classes accommodate their busy lives.

“It’s been excellent for my schedule because I work as a medical assistant at a pediatrician’s office,” Summer says. “My doctor has been great about letting me leave at 5 so I can take classes from 6–10. We’re working on upper-level credits in chemistry right now. Also taking an individual learning contract [ILC], which allows even more flexibility with our schedules.”

With the help of faculty mentor Amanda Kugel, Summer and Alexander crafted an ILC that spans the biological disciplines of immunology and genetics.

“There’s a statistics component, too,” Summer says. “These are the last courses we’ll need to take before we finish our degrees.”

Forward, March!

Summer and Alexander both graduated in June and they’ve begun scouting grad schools with physician assistant programs.

“We’ve thrived in this busy phase of our lives,” Alexander says. “We’ve done the full-time work, full-time school thing. We could become MDs, but that comes with a trade off. You may have kids, but you never get to see them. Which is why we’re on the physician assistant track. We can save lives and still have a life of our own.”

When Summer and Alexander think about the path they’ve taken toward a successful medical career—from the Army to a small liberal arts college in the Northwest woods—they shake their heads and laugh. But given the chance, they wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“I’ve noticed that the Army and Evergreen do have one thing in common,” Alexander says. “If you keep pushing yourself, you can get so much out of the experience.”