Graduating Veteran Thomas Rowland stands outside of the Humanities building on Thursday, May 16. Rowland took classes in this building to earn his degree in International Relations. (TRISTEN ROWEAN/Golden Gate Xpress)

 

Veteran Thomas Rowland, 28, struggled to transition from military life to college, after serving four years in the Marine Corps and deploying for seven months to Afghanistan in 2013.

He persevered, stuck with his courses at SF State and will graduate this spring with a degree in International Relations.

Rowland served as 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion in the Helmand Province. He realized the military was the best course of action to
manage student debt from attending college in Colorado.

“[After the military] the best thing for me was VA [Veterans Affairs],” Rowland said. “I started treatment for me, you know, for the things that were going on with in life. It helped me reset my life and then also for me personally giving up drinking was an important one.”

Post-military life took a toll on Rowland. When in Afghanistan, he would often question why he was there looking for his purpose. Now, with his background and knowledge, he hopes to help better the veteran community. He became a work-study intern with Sword to Plowshares, a veteran focused nonprofit that helped him learn about issues facing veterans locally and nationally.

“I work in their policy research department which is relevant to what I’m trying to do long-term,” Rowland said. “There’s research and
you’re studying like what are the gaps in the services? There’s still plenty of work to be done and there’s people not getting what they’ve
already earned.”

Rowland who was was born in Kapolei, HI, moved to San Francisco in 2015. He originally attended city college but transferred to SF State once realizing that he could get a degree specifically in International Relations, which is not offered at every university.

“The goal for me is to either work for a government agency, like the Department of State or a research group,” Rowland said.

Burcu Ellis, an International Relations professor was influential to Rowland’s academic career.

“It is rare to find a student with Thomas’ focus, ability to persevere and intellectual breadth,” Ellis said. “He has the ability to understand the complexity of the human condition and offer solutions that fit the nature of each situation.”

Rowland is the current outgoing president for the student organization, Veteran Education Transition and Support (V.E.T.S). The organi-
zation is dedicated to helping veterans ensure their academic success and easing the transition from military to college. They provide addi-
tional resources to veterans such as ensuring paperwork for school is correct and having a study space.

“It is nice to have that community,” he said. “It’s a good social space for veterans to come and hang out and discuss a lot of commonalities that we have with each other while still studying. Some schools don’t have that.”

Rowland’s brother, Bronson Jordan Kapono Rowland, is proud of the accomplishments.  “I’m regretful that I won’t be able to attend
his graduation ceremony,” Bronson said. “But I’m proud that he’s pushing forward in his academics like this.”

The brothers grew up fairly close but got distant after high school. Rowland had gone to study abroad and join the Marine Corps while
Bronson worked and attended school. “We will be seeing each other as we plan to head to the East Coast to have a funeral for our
recently departed mother” said Bronson.  Bronson recalls the times he would be home with his mother praying for the safety of Row-
land. They would pray together with the verse Psalm 91 every night for him to return home safely.

“While we are still doing our own things with our lives we are trying to reconnect a little more by calling and talking to each other more
often,” Bronson said. “We get busy and put it on the back burner sometimes but we know family is important.”

Rowland hopes to continue giving back to the veteran community. There are many gaps in the services that he hopes to close by finding
research and providing additional resources.

The transition process from active duty to veteran could be improved, according to Rowland.

He believes that it would be better if veterans or transitioning service members were enrolled in VA as they were exiting. “I think a support system of friends and family would have been helpful,” Rowland said. “But we make do with what we got though.”