Jessica Evans, a civil engineering technology major, went around the world on her way to Old Dominion University.
As a sonar technician in the Navy, Evans traveled to many places, including Singapore, Thailand, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain before finally being stationed in Hawaii.
"We kind of grew up a little bit on the poor side, so I didn't really expect to ever travel outside of the United States, let alone be on a warship traveling to different countries," she said.
Evans is a recent recipient of a SoldierStrong Scholarship, an endowment gifted to the Batten College of Engineering and Technology and awarded to a female veteran with a high GPA in a STEM discipline.
She grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and didn't go to college right away.
"I was kind of lost at what I was going to do," she said.
Her grandfathers were military veterans. Her paternal grandfather served in Vietnam and her maternal grandfather served during World War II.
"I was thinking about a way to honor them and what they've done," Evans said. "The financial resources were also a big deciding factor. The GI Bill has been great in that aspect."
In high school, engineering was not on Evans' radar. She thought about becoming a chef or studying psychology. The Navy helped steer her toward engineering as she learned about the STEM-related jobs and possibilities onboard the ship.
"I think most of my life I wanted to make a difference in the world, whether that's a small difference or a big difference," Evans said. "In the Navy, you seem so small, like you're only one piece of the puzzle, but then you're also serving the greater good."
When Evans and her husband, who is active-duty Navy, relocated to Norfolk, she felt it was time to go back to school.
"I was researching schools in the area and looked into ODU and I saw how great their engineering program was, and how many options there were. It just seemed like a really good fit for me," Evans said.
She admits that having a spouse in the military and a 3-year-old while going to school is challenging.
"It's really hectic. Most days I'm just getting through the day," she said. "But it's also very rewarding because I am supporting my husband and his military career and I am also kind of supporting my son in showing him that it's never too late to go back (to school), or to start something."
After completing her bachelor's degree, Evans hopes to pursue a master's in engineering.
"Growing up, I never dreamed about going to college, let alone going as far as a master's degree," she said. "To have that opportunity to reach for my dreams, it's really special."