A lot has changed since Tiffany Meyers last set foot on Rowan College at Gloucester County's (RCGC) campus. RCGC was still known as Gloucester County College (GCC) when Meyers graduated in 2011 with her associate degree in Psychology, and she had not yet realized her dream of enlisting in the United States Navy.
Meyers had originally planned to enlist immediately following her graduation from Buena Regional High School, but family members encouraged her to give academia a chance before shipping out. Once she started looking into schools, she quickly realized GCC was the right option for her.
"GCC offered the big university education without the big university price tag," said Meyers. "I found out that I could complete all of the general education and prerequisite classes at GCC for thousands less and then transfer to a four-year institution. It made the most sense to me."
Meyers quickly found her place at GCC, due in part to the College's Psychology learning community, which uses block scheduling to create cohorts of students who travel together though the institution, taking the same classes with the same professors and working collaboratively on assignments. A full-time job as a manager at Walmart and a full-time commitment as a college student did not leave Meyers with a lot of down time, but what free time she did have was split between future husband Matthew, whom she met on GCC's campus in a Communications 101 class, and the Psychology Club.
"Pretty much all of the learning community people were in Psych Club. We were all really close," recalled Meyers. "Our club meetings would go over current developments in the field of psychology, application of concepts to current events, application in our own lives and a healthy dose of having fun. We are now scattered around the country, but some of us still keep in touch via Facebook and text years later!"
While Meyers recalls many individuals and moments at GCC that made her experience there a memorable one, she is emphatic that no one had a more influential impact on her life than associate professor of Psychology, Psychology Club facilitator and mentor, Jessica Jolly. Tough but nurturing, Jolly encouraged her students to really engage with the material they were presented and challenged them to work hard and to exceed expectations.
"Out of every professor I have taken, spanning three institutions, the most impactful would be Professor Jolly," Meyers remarked. "She laid out all of the tools to complete assignments and encouraged you to exceed the requirements. Her door was always open, no matter what you needed — I really felt she cared about my success in my education and in life as much as I did. To this day, she is a life mentor."
After graduating with her associate degree in Psychology, Meyers went on to take a few courses at Rowan University. She loved being in college, but knew something was missing from her life. Meyers always felt a pull to serve her country and the Navy's slogan at that time – "A Global Force for Good" – called out to her. In 2013, she walked into the nearest recruiting center and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Meyers trained at the Recruit Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois and the Navy Technical Training Center in Meridian, Mississippi before she was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii at the Joint Intelligence Operations Center, Pacific Command, Defense Intelligence Agency Detachment. During this time, she continued her education, attending Sociology classes online through the American Military University, an offshoot of the American Public University.
"My time at GCC taught me good study habits that I carried to other universities and then the Navy," said Meyers. "Life in the military isn't the easiest and I did see a few people buckle under the pressure when they couldn't adapt. I credit part of my adaptability to my time at GCC and my lessons with Professor Jolly."
After almost four years in the Navy, Meyers was granted a medical retirement due to injuries received in the service of her country. She retired with a Joint Service Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Good Conduct Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Pistol Marksman Ribbon. A hip injury, head injury and chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) left her with memory difficulties and speech issues in the form of a stutter and she now required the use of a cane to walk.
Meyers' transition back to civilian life proved to be more difficult than she had anticipated. Not only did she struggle with the results of her disabilities, but she found the loss of the comradery and structure the Navy afforded her to be challenging. While Meyers knew she wanted to continue to pursue her education, she feared her injuries might make that difficult. Then in late 2017, she returned to RCGC's campus to see what the college could offer her.
"I was honestly unsure if I would ever be able to return to school until I visited the campus," admitted Meyers. "The staff are very understanding of the challenges veterans face. Ms. Teri Germano kindly took me on a tour during my visit and showed me the many veteran-friendly additions, including the Veteran's Lounge, complete with keypad entry and computer lab. There was even talk of vet-to-vet tutoring."
Meyers now lives in Dorothy, New Jersey with her husband, fellow GCC alum Matthew Meyers, and their dog Hamlet. She still has a few problems to solve before she can return to school, such as resolving transportation issues, but she feels confident those challenges can be met and overcome. She is now focused on deciding what she plans to study. In the interim, Meyers practices archery, a hobby she finds to be therapeutic, and is an outspoken advocate of non-pharmaceutical, alternative treatments for veterans facing disabilities. An anonymous quote she first heard while going through treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is a constant reassurance to her as she embraces this next chapter of her life: "Perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness, yet still become something beautiful."
"The loss of my career is something I battle with every day. It truly pained my heart to leave," said Meyers. "I am not sure what field of study or jobs would fit me best, but I have confidence that if I choose RCGC an advisor will help me to decide."
For more information about services available to veterans at RCGC, please visit RCGC.edu/Veterans.
Rowan College at Gloucester County's 250-acre campus is located on Tanyard Road in Deptford, just off Exit 56 off of Route 55.