Infantryman Accepted into University of Chicago Veterans Program | Item

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SPC. Natnael M. Getahun, an infantryman assigned to 1st Armored Division Headquarters and Company Brigade Headquarters, 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team from Fort Bliss, Texas, a received his acceptance to the University of Chicago during a surprise videoconference with the Dean of Admissions on October 26, 2020, while deployed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield.
(Photo credit: Staff Sergeant Michael West)

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WASHINGTON — Three years ago, Spc. Natnael Getahun knew he had chosen the wrong path in life as he struggled to stay motivated while attending the University of Pittsburgh.

“I didn’t like what I was studying,” Getahun said. “I was about 19 and going to college on an engineering scholarship at the time.”

Getahun needed a change in his life as he considered all his options, he said. If he changed majors, he would give up his scholarship and have to pay for his tuition himself – a risk he was not prepared to take.

He eventually decided to take a chance and join the military to reap the benefits of military education and eventually make a career out of it. Little did he know that his service would later help him get accepted into a prestigious research university.

Getahun initially considered serving in the military as a cryptographic linguist, but was hesitant to enlist for an initial six-year term, he said.

“I didn’t think I was a very mature person back then. [and] I felt the army could help me,” he said, who is now 22. “They could help me take a step back and find what I really want to do with my life. “

He eventually decided on a three-year contract in the infantry, with the intention of re-enlisting as an unmanned aircraft systems operator.

“I told my parents about it, and they were understandably upset,” Getahun said. “In their eyes, I was throwing a scholarship to study engineering [and] I had shown no interest in joining the army.

Born in Ethiopia, but raised in Texas and Pennsylvania, Getahun’s parents tried to convince him to change his mind.

Still, Getahun remained determined to find his own way as he underwent basic military training. He is currently assigned to 1st Armored Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company Brigade, 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bliss, Texas, and deployed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield.

Continuing education

Throughout his career in the military, Getahun looked for ways to return to college and, one day, major in philosophy and applied mathematics.

While researching, Getahun came across Service to School, a nonprofit that provides military and veterans with free college and graduate application counseling services.

After applying, he was quickly connected with a mentor, who just attended the University of Chicago and praised its “Stand Together” program.

The Stand Together program provides access to education for underrepresented students and veterans, in addition to scholarship opportunities, Getahun said. Military members applying to college receive a dedicated admissions counselor to help them through the process.

“My mentor gave me the confidence to apply and I feel like I have a good chance of getting into the University of Chicago,” he said. “He just told me to ignore the acceptance rate and submit the best application possible.”

With just under a year left in his enlistment, Getahun submitted his application for the 2021 school year. The school’s prestige seemed well beyond his reach, he says.

Getahun’s admissions counselor then responded with a request for an Oct. 26 interview with Jim Nondorf, the university’s dean of admissions.

“I was really nervous,” Getahun said, as he answered a series of admissions-related questions.

As he sat during the interview, his supervisor and the brigade leader silently entered the room and stood behind him.


SPC.  Natnael M. Getahun, an infantryman assigned to 1st Armored Division Headquarters and Company Brigade Headquarters, 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bliss, Texas, receives his acceptance to the University of Chicago during a surprise videoconference with the Dean of Admissions on October 26, 2020, while deployed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield.



SPC. Natnael M. Getahun, an infantryman assigned to 1st Armored Division Headquarters and Company Brigade Headquarters, 40th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bliss, Texas, receives his acceptance to the University of Chicago during a surprise videoconference with the Dean of Admissions on October 26, 2020, while deployed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield.
(Photo credit: Major Steven Modugno)

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“I was confused – and trying to figure out what was going on,” he said. “I thought, maybe they were just there for moral support.”

With all the staff in place, the Dean unveiled his surprise efforts. Getahun later found out that his leadership had helped coordinate this event about a week prior.

“It gives me great pleasure and honor to admit you … to the University of Chicago,” Nondorf said during the video meeting. “Welcome aboard and congratulations.”

Impressed, but grateful, for the announcement, Getahun honestly didn’t believe he had a chance to go to college.

“For the past 18 months, he’s worked for me…constantly bringing his A-game,” said Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Prickette, the 2nd ABCT Operations Sergeant Major. “He is always on the lookout for personal and professional growth and consistently demonstrates his dedication to accomplishing his mission through hard work and discipline.”

Col. Michael Wagner, the brigade commander, and Command Sgt. Major Christopher Kohunsky, the brigade’s senior enlisted advisor, then both presented Getahun with a brigade coin.

“He doesn’t accept failure and he will never give up,” Prickette added on the video call. “He performs all duties to the highest standard and is a valued member of the team. It is our honor and privilege to serve with Spc. Getahun.”

It took several days to get everything back to normal, he said. Getahun plans to spend his final seven months in the military becoming a better soldier as he prepares for his freshman year at the University of Chicago next October.

Getahun will have access to veterans housing, community and social programs, and career counseling services through the school’s Veterans Services Program. The university will also pay tuition fees that exceed the GI Bill tuition amount, leaving him nearly debt-free upon graduation.

Overall, Getahun said he was grateful for his time in the military and would continue to apply the many skills he learned throughout his college and civilian career. One of those skills is time management, which could prove vital when he starts his classes.

“I’m much better off with money, which will help me while I’m in college and for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m definitely a lot more mature now, which I attribute to the military. I’m grateful for everything and can’t wait to go to college next year.”

Related links:

Army.mil: Global News

Army.mil: soldiers

Army News Service

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