Emma Kirby shares her story of rediscovering purpose and a sense of community by continuing her service stateside.

Emma Kirby is a Navy veteran who has devoted years of her life to service. She served on active from 2012-2016 and has since been a member of the Navy Reserve. However, Kirby’s service to our country and to those who served doesn’t stop when the uniform come off; she’s a student and volunteer working to provide other veterans with the best possible post-military lives.

Currently a second-year graduate student at the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, Kirby is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with hopes of beginning a career in veterans’ affairs. Following her own service, Kirby says she can “think of no higher honor than to serve those who have served our nation.”

“Being raised by career military parents, I have always felt the military community is my family,” she said. “A career in veterans’ affairs is really a career taking care of my family and making sure that they have all of the resources and benefits that they need to thrive post military service.”

During her time on active duty, Kirby served in the Navy as an Operations Specialist. In that role, she was in charge of mission planning, flight following, briefing, and drafting reports in the overall support and training of the P-3 Orion airplanes for Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing-10 Command. During her deployment in San Salvador, El Salvador, she earned a Navy Achievement Medal for her efforts in combating the drug trade in Central America.

Kirby after completing bootcamp in Chicago, IL (2012)

As you’ll learn with Kirby, when one chapter of service ends, another quickly begins. Upon transitioning out of active duty in 2016, Kirby decided to continue her service in the Navy Reserve. She admits she used to joke about Sailors in the Reserve, but she’s grown to respect the commitment it requires.

“I didn’t understand the challenges and sacrifices that reservists have to make in order to balance a full time career on top of continuing to serve the nation,” said Kirby. “I take pride in still being able to wear the uniform and although it can be very stressful trying to balance full time school, work, and reserves, it is great to keep that military community a part of my life because many days I do miss being active duty.”

No matter where a veteran lands following their time on active duty, transitioning is almost always a stressful process. The readjustment can be tricky, and for Kirby, she says she struggled most with the sudden shift from military culture to campus culture. “The two cultures are starkly different, and it took almost the entire year (I would say I still struggle with it) to get used to how students interact with each other and how things operate on a campus versus how we operate in the military,” she said. “I missed my military community because we are a family, and it took me longer than I thought it would to find that sense of community on campus.”

Many veterans point to losing that sense of community and their sense of purpose as the most difficult part of returning home. For Kirby, part of rediscovering those feelings would involve becoming an active member of the Seattle area’s veteran community. She serves as the Evans School’s Lead Student Ambassador, a role in which she’s working to strengthen the veteran community within the university. Additionally, she works at UW Bothell as its VetCorps Navigator.

It was through this position that Kirby was introduced to FourBlock Western Region Director Monica McNeal, who delivers the foundation’s Career Readiness Program at UW Bothell. The two connected, and Kirby saw FourBlock as yet another opportunity to give back to the veteran community. The duo now co-teaches FourBlock’s curriculum to the university’s student veterans.

On top of co-teaching the program, Kirby is an advocate for FourBlock, serving as a Campus Leader at UW’s Bothell and Seattle campuses, where she works to “make sure as many veterans know about the program as possible.”

But, as you’ve probably guessed, Kirby’s work with FourBlock doesn’t end there. She also helps McNeal with marketing materials and volunteers her time for FourBlock whenever possible. “I really believe in what she and FourBlock does,” said Kirby. “I have seen how it impacts the students taking the transition course at Bothell, as well how much Monica has helped me prepare for my own career transition for when I graduate.”

Kirby’s veterans’ affairs work has led her to become familiar with various transition programs; however, she says FourBlock’s stands out due to its “direct and modern” curriculum. “Most veterans transitioning from college to career want to know how to translate their military experience to a resume in a way that employers can understand, they want to know how to use LinkedIn effectively and have a stand out profile, and more importantly, they want to build a professional network that will help them gain employment after graduation,” she said. “FourBlock has learned to do all of that in a very effective way.”

On a personal level, Kirby says FourBlock has helped put her “mind at ease about career transition.” She added, “I know that if I use the tools [McNeal] teaches in class and take advantage of the networking opportunities that FourBlock provides, I will be set up for success.”

Kirby (left) at the VA Hospital in Seattle, WA.

In addition to being a Sailor in the Reserve, working at UW Bothell, serving as her program’s Lead Student Ambassador, co-teaching FourBlock’s curriculum, and being a FourBlock Campus Leader—mind you, all while attending graduate school—Kirby also volunteers at the VA Hospital in Seattle. She’s pictured above with one of the veterans she plays bingo with as part of a monthly volunteering project. She says volunteering at the hospital has been a “big help” since she returned home, as it “always puts things in perspective.”

Kirby’s transition back into civilian life wasn’t also smooth, but through perseverance, she’s become a remarkable example of how veterans can rediscover purpose and a sense of community by continuing their service back home.

The Navy veteran is set to graduate from Evans with her Master’s Degree in Spring 2018. If her military and collegiate careers are any indication, she’ll undoubtedly continue to make a massive impact on the lives of countless veterans through an incredibly successful career in veterans’ affairs.

To other transitioning veterans, Kirby leaves you with this piece of key advice: “Allow yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable in your new role in life. There is no time limit and every transition looks and feels different. Trust your gut, and do what is best for you when you are making choices about college and your next career steps.”

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