Military spouse Latoya McClary found herself at the bottom of her priority list — something she intends to change.
McClary has many goals for herself, some personal and some professional. And while she has grasped her personal goals, she knows the best way to reach her professional ones is to start with a college degree.
Her husband, Leroy, an Army supply staff sergeant, is currently using his military benefits and working towards his degree in graphic design at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
McClary knew going for her degree could financially strain the family. So, when an opportunity for a full-tuition scholarship at SNHU came to her attention, like so many other military spouses, she had to pursue it.
Strengthening Families, Changing Lives
Each year, SNHU and Operation Homefront (OH) come together to award multiple full-tuition scholarships to military spouses at nationwide Homefront Celebration events.
“Our relationship with Operation Homefront allows us to combine our mission to transform lives through the power of higher education with their mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families,” said Victoria White, a regional director of military and community college partnerships at SNHU. “Together, we have been able to change the trajectory of 38 military spouses’ lives – and their family’s – with a full tuition scholarship.”
This partnership between SNHU and Operation Homefront continues to change lives.
“SNHU has made it possible for military spouses nationwide to pursue an education that may have seemed impossible to achieve,” Barbara Herzinger, director of corporate partnerships at Operation Homefront, a possibility that resonated with McClary.
Sharpening Her Focus
McClary decided it was time for her to put her professional goals at the forefront and do something for herself. So, she applied for the scholarship, which paid off.
“I made a pact with myself to take more chances with things concerning my future. The kids are back in schools, getting older and need me less,” McClary said. “This is a perfect time for me to sharpen my focus and progress forward.”
On November 4, SNHU and OH hosted an in-person Homefront Celebration event in Virginia to connect military spouses and award McClary with a full-tuition scholarship to begin her bachelor’s degree in public health.
“Latoya’s scholarship application was compelling and showed immense adaptability because she consistently mentioned situations that could be perceived as setbacks that she used for her personal and professional development,” said White.
McClary has worked hard in her personal life on a health and fitness journey, and the work has paid off for her, so now, with her new scholarship, she will be able to combine her passion for health and fitness and her degree in public health to achieve her main goal — to help others.
“She has plans to study public health and wants to make a difference in health care and help others,” said Herzinger. “Knowing that it can be challenging for people to navigate the healthcare system and hearing Latoya’s passion for this field, I know that she will accomplish great things.”
How a Personal Focus Led to Public Health
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, McClary decided to work on herself, especially her mental and physical health, to improve her overall quality of life. It quickly became her passion.
“During the pandemic, I set my focus on fitness and nutrition,” she said. “Our girls were doing virtual classes, so it was a reprieve from carpooling, after-school activities and the like. This laser-sharp focus led me to release and maintain a 100-pound weight loss without any diet aids or surgical assistance.”
Not wanting to restrict her life and having no access to a gym at the time, McClary took a more creative approach to her health journey. From early-morning bikes and late-night nature walks with her daughters to creating new recipes together, she was able to work on herself and connect with her daughters.
“We even found ways to recreate our favorite dishes instead of using the food delivery service,” McClary said. “These small changes helped me to release and maintain my weight loss. I want to empower others to take their life back.”
Finally, being able to begin her degree, she can start her journey to helping others. She has felt not having a degree has held her back, as she hasn’t had the same experience or education as others.
“This degree from SNHU in public health would catapult me to a level where I can reach individuals, otherwise overlooked and long forgotten, to bring fresh ways to improve their quality of life,” said McClary.
Why Education is Important for Military Spouses
Often military spouses have to put their career plans and ambitions on hold to support their spouse’s career in the military; something McClary not only knows well but embraces.
“Our girls know that Daddy may have to work late, go in early, and get a last-minute assignment but Mom… Mom is going to be there around the clock,” said McClary. “This has allowed him the flexibility needed to focus on his career. It has also created a lot of space for me to discover what I want to do for myself.”
And for McClary, it’s finally being able to pursue her education. For military families, relocation and continual change is a way of life, but McClary believes education is important for military spouses as it is just for them – it can be their constant.
“I love learning new things and having new experiences. I also love sharing what I know with others. Education connects people together, giving them an opportunity to explore, share and dig deeper into special interests,” McClary said. “An education won’t get lost in the permanent change of station (PCS). It is yours alone. No one can take that away.”
Her degree at SNHU is only the start for McClary. With the support of her two daughters and, most specifically, her husband, she knows she can do it.
“He was excited,” she said about her husband’s reaction to her scholarship. “I’ve chosen to put myself and many of my personal goals on the back burner in order to be the more consistent parent in our home. He recognizes that this would allow me to take my health journey to the next level.”
And the next level is exactly where she plans to go.
“I’ve reached my goal, and now it’s time to teach others how to do that in their own lives,” said McClary.
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Alexa Gustavsen ’21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.