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Member Spotlight: Ana Vidal!

What did you do in the military and where did you serve?

Naval Air Station Pensacola, 2014

I was a Ground Support Equipment Technician in the Marine Corps. We basically worked on and maintained the gear you see around the airplanes at the airport, like tugs and weapons loaders. I served for one enlistment in Yuma, AZ, but I got to take a break from the heat when I took a cruise with the 15th MEU about 3/4ths into my enlistment.

Tell us about your decision to pursue undergraduate and/or graduate degrees following your military service.

I knew I wanted to go back to school and finish my bachelors degree, but I didn’t have a clear idea as to what I wanted to study. I’ve always had many interests, and it becomes difficult to pick only one. Because of this, I switched majors and ended up having to drop my double major for Physics (for now, I plan to finish it one day) to graduate in May from Communication. I think I missed the environment with a focus was on learning and experimenting, and I wanted to go back to it after service.

Deployment 2017. I’m the super cool one in the middle.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to start grad school (Masters degree) this fall. Beyond that, I have several options and I am hoping that my time in grad school helps me decide. The one thing I know beyond a doubt is that I am going to spend a few years in Communication before returning to school for Physics, and that I want to use my time in Communication to help and engage with veterans. I am not sure if I am going to do this through research, community engagement/outreach, or teaching (or maybe all), and so that’s what these next two years are about.

What research opportunities did you pursue in undergrad?

I was fortunate to connect with a professor early in my undergraduate career who provided me with several different kinds of opportunities for research. I was able to be a part of a group of professors who worked and are in the process of publishing research concerning the dynamics of communication for spouses after a servicemember’s return from deployment. I also presented twice at research conferences, which was a great opportunity. The other opportunity I had was to intern for a museum’s photography program for veterans and then conduct an assessment of the program with a Communication professor and graduate student.

Art Basel, Miami Beach, 2021. I work at a museum on campus – first as an intern for veteran’s photography course, now as the Event Coordinator. I was able to go on this trip to Art Basel, an international art fair, because of it.

How did your military experience help you succeed in UG or in research?

It helped in two major ways. First, it gave me the topic I wanted to focus on in my research, not just for veterans, but for the public as well. I am a proponent for  believing we can reduce or eliminate the military-civilian divide. Second, it gave me to fortitude and qualities to finish my degree and take advantage of every opportunity that was presented to me. Undergrad was rough for me, especially when I was doing a double major of Communication and Physics (minor in Astronomy) and trying to also do an internship at the same time. I somehow made it through and although I did drop Physics, I felt grateful that I at least had tried it out.

Warrior-Scholar Project at the University of Arizona, 2021. I was a STEM fellow for the summer, and it is one of the most fulfilling programs I’ve had the chance to be a part of as a veteran.

What are your thoughts about having been a “non-traditional” student in undergrad?

I view it as a positive mostly. My perspective is different than when I first tried college before serving, and the life experience has only made me stronger. When school got rough, I was able to continue going because I knew I could get through it.

What advice would you give to veterans interested in doing research or going to grad school?

Be open to opportunities that come up. I have gotten all my research opportunities by being ready when an opportunity presented itself, and they were opportunities I never would have imagined getting when I first reentered college. Luck is part of the equation, at least for me, but the other half is putting in the work and energy when the opportunity presented itself.

How can we get in touch with you?

My email is Feel free to email me whenever!


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