This Naval Academy grad is all in on ‘Service to School’
Service to School is led by a veteran and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. Not only is Service to School making college education obtainable, it is helping veterans to go all the way and have access to the best schools while they do it.
Military service and attending the Naval Academy was always the plan. Emmert spent the majority of his early childhood in Brazil, where his father was assigned for the State Department.
“The country was going through an economic downturn in the early 1990s and the big thing I saw there was a lot of poverty and I got a deep sense of privilege. I saw many kids my own age who were basically starving on the streets begging for food,” Emmert shared. “I was very lucky to have been born in a middle class family in the United States and it kind of made me feel a debt of gratitude to America for the opportunities it had given my family. The easiest way I saw paying that back was to join the military after high school.”
He spent his high school years living outside of Washington D.C. and visited the Naval Academy a few times when he went to Annapolis. It left an impression.
“From pretty much the first time I saw the Naval Academy, that was the only place I wanted to go to college. I just remember just being absolutely obsessed with getting into the Naval Academy,” he laughed.
He began his Plebe year in the late summer of 2001. When terrorists attacked America on 9/11, Emmert knew his vision of service was going to radically change. After graduating the academy, he became a nuclear submarine officer and deployed multiple times to the Middle East. It was a rough time for many of his friends and fellow service members who were injured, killed and whose lives were forever changed.
After getting out of the Navy he interned at The Daily Show and consulted on Defense Security and Energy projects while he earned his MBA. During this time, he discovered Service to School.
“I've always had that desire to work with my fellow veterans and help them achieve their fullest potential so I started mentoring enlisted veterans who are interested in going to college,” he explained.
A year ago he found out the CEO position was opening up within the organization. Emmert saw the opportunity and jumped on it. He’s proud of the work Service to School has done over the last decade and can’t wait to take it even further, he added. Notable advisory board members include former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps four-star General Jim Mattis.
“I owe an immense sense of gratitude to the U.S. Navy and the United States. The mentorship I got from my senior enlisted and my fellow officers just really made me just grow up and learn to take accountability for any actions I had,” he said. “That background and experience put me where I am today. The GI Bill has been a huge game changer in my life. I've used it to pay for two master's degrees, I would have never had the financial resources to do that without going heavily in debt, which I probably wouldn't have done. But had I not been in the military, I wouldn't have had that higher education opportunity opened up for me.”
Around 2,500 veterans sign up to receive the free support offered for undergraduate studies. Service to School is not only doubling down on their programming but they’ve created a powerful in-person annual VetLink summit for veterans, too. This past June, attendees heard keynote Adrian Perkins and a host of speakers from elite and Ivy League schools. Some of the more notable partner schools include Harvard, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and Brown.
The closing keynote was none other than James Hatch, the veteran Navy Seal was part of a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development group before a combat injury ended his military career. He has been very vocal about how devastating the loss was, leading to thoughts of suicide.
“In my experience, the transition from the U.S. military to the civilian world is wrought with potholes that can frustrate and hobble veterans if they aren’t keeping their mental health fitness. College can be an extremely beneficial mental health modality in the sense that a student is working on themselves," Hatch shared. "Some veterans can feel guilty or selfish doing this and that is why it is important to have access to mental health assets during this transition and learning experience."
Service to School is more than showing veterans the possibilities with higher education. It’s about saving lives, too.
“There's a lot of problems in the veteran community like unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. But a college degree is a variable that will reduce the likelihood of all those negative outcomes,” he explained. “It doesn't fix the problem, but it helps. If you have a college degree, you're less likely to be unemployed, you're less likely to be homeless and you're less likely to take on your own life.”
When Emmert reflects on the past twenty years, he traces it all back to the Navy and his fellow veterans. “As someone who came of age in the 9/11 era, I lost more than a few friends. I've had friends lost overseas, some who were very badly injured, and I've had friends who've taken their lives when they came home,” he shared. “So for me, it's something that's always in front of my mind. I always ask myself what can I do to just be a better person and keep their memory alive and the way I see doing it is helping the next generation of veterans.”
You can learn more about Service to School here.