Northwestern State University students taking classes at Barksdale Air Force Base have found one of their most valuable resources is a fellow student who understands them very well.
China Whitwer, a senior nursing major, has been named as a recipient of a Student Veteran Leadership Award by G.I. Jobs Magazine. The magazine recognized Whitwer for efforts to assist fellow students in navigating the process of enrolling in classes, putting together a degree plan and accessing their maximum amount of financial aid benefits.
“She never misses an opportunity to help and assist,” said Suzette Hadden, executive director of Caddo/Bossier Partnership and Military Outreach at NSU. “She is a leader by example and through her guidance, she is someone our young airmen can talk to for assistance.”
A native of Custer, South Dakota, Whitwer enrolled at NSU in 2018 after serving in the Air Force for eight years and came to Hadden looking for part-time work. She took a job in the VA Work-Study Program and began working with airmen, attending education fairs and providing support during military recognition days at the local office.
“As China progressed in her studies with nursing, we found out through other nursing students that she continued to assist them in their studies, Pell Grant applications, or directed those short of funds to our office for a book to borrow,” said Hadden. “She has demonstrated to several upperclass nursing students that you can acquire a full-time status in your final semesters in order to maximize their VA benefits.”
Whitwer said she found the job was one she could do well.
“I found I was good at giving people suggestions on starting school or who to talk to about their questions,” said Whitwer. “Throughout my enlistment, I would always meet people that wanted to pursue an education but did not know where to start or if they could go to school while working. I thought the work-study would allow me to help other enlisted personnel, family and veterans pursue their education plans.”
Whitwer’s Air Force background was invaluable to assisting those in the military pursue a degree.
“I understood how Air Force Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill worked, how various shift schedules worked, and the different military requirements an enlisted person has,” said Whitwer. “I understood how to pursue a degree through the Community College of the Air Force while choosing classes specifically oriented to a bachelor’s. I was able to work with the airmen and nursing students by helping with time management, increasing their understanding of the rigors of the nursing program and helping them understand the prerequisite requirements of the nursing program.
NSU’s quality nursing program along with its proximity to Barksdale helped Whitwer decide to pursue her degree at Northwestern.
“The education counselor I spoke to about pursuing nursing recommended going to Northwestern and a coworker put me in contact with the Barksdale NSU office.” she said. “It was also a blessing that I could complete all the prerequisite courses for nursing online. Online classes have truly helped me to pursue my education. I was able to take classes throughout my enlistment and deployments. I did not have to attempt to build a class schedule around a work schedule or cancel classes because of unexpected deployments or military requirements.”
The availability of online classes gave Whitwer the opportunity to minor in psychology and addiction studies.
“I chose these minors because I believe the more I understand about people, the more proficient nurse I can be,” said Whitwer. “I believe these minors have helped me to better focus on patients as a whole person.”
Whitwer will complete her bachelor’s this summer and plans to earn a master’s and doctorate in nursing and pursue a career as an instructor. For more information on NSU@Barksdale, go to nsula.edu/ece/barksdale-campus/.