Serwaa Gyasi is one of many veterans and active-duty military members who are part of the St. Francis College family, among our alumni, our current student body and our faculty and staff past and present.
After living in her native Ghana until age seven, Serwaa immigrated with her family to the United States, settling in Yonkers. She graduated from William Taft High School in the Bronx in 2013 and, after completing some coursework at Long Island University, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2016, serving for four years active duty, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Serwaa just wrapped up her first year at St. Francis College in pursuit of a BS in Radiologic Sciences, which the College offers in partnership with Center for Allied Health Education (CAHE). Serwaa plans to specialize in OB/GYN and abdominal radiology.
In recognition of National Armed Forces Day (May 16th), Serwaa reflected on her military career and the life of service she hopes St. Francis prepares her for.
How did you decide to attend St. Francis College?
I was in my last year of my active duty contract in the military. I was based at Fort Bliss, Texas. I wanted to finish school, so I was looking at ones that offered my [intended] degree, which is radiologic sciences.
I noticed LIU had it. I attended LIU for a year and a half already, and I knew LIU had a bigger body of students. I liked the small classroom setting where the teacher actually notices me and I'm able to answer questions.
I called St. Francis and Googled it to make sure its accreditation and everything was good. Then I saw that they take online credits. Because I was traveling places with the military, I had done online classes. I applied.
Can you tell me more about your military background?
I went to Maryland in 2014 to live with my uncle. He's in the military. He's a Master Sergeant right now. He works for White
House communications, for the President. I was always fascinated by the military and I have a lot of student loans. I thought, this is a way that I can pay off the loans and also give service.
I enlisted, and on January 11th of 2016 I went to basic training. I also completed my military job training, which is called AIT [Advanced Individual Training]. I then went to my unit, which is an infantry unit, mostly male. I went to Fort Bliss, and we ended up deploying to Afghanistan in December of 2016. We were in deployment for about nine months, until October 2017.
The military was never something that I wanted to do [growing up]. My friends can tell you. They were so shocked when I enlisted. I think joining the military just opened my eyes to the path that I wanted to pick in my life.
What was being in Afghanistan like?
That was probably the most thrilling thing I've ever done in my life. It's just a part of me.
Afghanistan was an eyeopener. I think people [in the United States] take things for granted. Even if it's just waking up in the morning and having fresh water to drink. When I was in Afghanistan, there were these kids who would just be happy to have a pen. These kids have nothing and we have so much. That was the best experience I ever had in the military. It is one of the reasons why I chose to also go into the medical field: so that I can give back to the military and also do humanitarian services outside the country.
What's it like for you as a veteran at St. Francis college?
I think it's very welcoming. I think the College makes sure that we're very accommodated in anything that we need.
What's been the best part of being a St. Francis College student so far?
I think meeting new people. That's what I loved about the military. I was very surprised and I was very glad that St. Francis was such a diverse community, because I felt like I was back in the military where I was meeting people from all over the world. And that's just one of my favorite things.
What do you see for yourself after you complete your St. Francis College education?
It's been going through my mind: should I join the military again? I definitely want to work with the federal government, work at a military-based hospital. It's definitely my dream to always work with veterans and help veterans who have disabilities.
The other thing is giving back to my home country. Helping them with medical stuff because I know it's not as developed there as the United States. So I would go back and just give whatever I can.
What is your message to your fellow military members thinking about college?
I would say never give up on anything. That has been something that has stuck me. In the military we have something called selfless service. You always have to think about that, and everything you do has to be selfless. Don't think about [what you do because] you're going to get an award for it but do it because it's something that you want to do to help people.
It's very hard being in the military and going through college online stuff. But I would say don't give up because you made it this far in the military. You were able to join that one percent of the entire U.S. population that joined the military and that one percent is very special. I feel like you should always go harder, push harder. Always do what you want to do to be successful and always do what you want to do to help other people.