Cristina and Michael Hill of Plainfield have been married for ten years, but they have an innocent playfulness between them that makes it seem as though they have never left the honeymoon phase. Both grew up with close family members in the military, which in turn, inspired them to serve for their country. They met while working in the Air Force in 2000. Now, 15 years later, Michael and Cristina are writing a new chapter in their lives together as JJC students.
How do they balance their responsibilities as parents, students and veterans? The couple's secret is that they do it all together. Below are five reasons the couple believes they are succeeding at JJC.
#1: They both are going back to school because they want to.
Three months after the Hills' second child was born, Cristina and Michael were deployed to Iraq. They didn't return until right before their daughter's first birthday. Being away from their children was not easy for either of them, and it was a turning point for Cristina: she knew she had to retire from the Air Force. "I knew then that it was time to stay home. Children change your whole way of life," she said, adding that while she stayed at home and worked on a military base, she started contemplating a new career in nursing. A few years later, Cristina was surprised when her husband told her that he'd been thinking about pursuing nursing as well. So last year, after Michael retired from the Air Force, the two veterans decided to make their nursing dream a reality by attending JJC. They chose JJC because they'd heard so many great things about the nursing program – and after finding out about all the financial benefits they'd receive from the GI Bill, they knew they'd chosen the right school.
#2: They are taking every class together.
Even though the two have different nursing concentrations (Michael wants to work in the ER, Cristina wants to work in child oncology), so far their class requirements have been the same. The full-time students have taken every class together, starting with their general education credits. The two have an extremely positive outlook on their education, and are taking advantage of being in all their classes together because that just means they will always have a study partner. "We keep each other focused and motivated," Cristina said. "It's actually very beneficial because we're learning the same things so I can explain something to him if he doesn't get it, or vice versa. And we're playful – sometimes one of us will tease the other, saying, 'I'm going to get a better grade than you!' Which really just helps us to study harder. We're very competitive!"
#3: They know it takes hard work to transition from military life to becoming a student – but they don't let the challenges stop them.
Becoming a full-time student has its ups and downs, just like being in the military, according to Michael. Taking classes and studying may seem like it would be easy after being in the military, but Michael said that it definitely takes hard work and determination. "Going back to school changes everything, including your way of thinking. In the military, if you make a mistake, you can get up the next day and try to fix it. In school, your final grade is your final grade." Both Michael and Cristina agreed that discipline is important both in the military and at school. It may be hard on some days, but they don't let the challenges stop them.
#4: JJC faculty and staff have played a vital role in helping the Hills transition back to life as students.
Though it hasn't been an easy journey, and it's been years since either of them have been full-time students, the Hills believe JJC's dedicated faculty and staff are what has really helped them excel. So far, their favorite instructors have been Natural Sciences Professor Sheryl Smithson and Sociology Professor Richard Cotton. "This was a big change for us, and I don't know if other schools are like this, but the faculty and staff here really pushed us and helped us completely change gears," said Michael. Cristina added that it's easy to get one-on-one time with the instructors because of the low teacher-to-student ratio. In addition to Smithson and Cotton, the couple added that Veterans Financial Aid Coordinator Cheryl Hlavac has also been a great influence.
#5: They know they are making a better future for themselves and their children.
The Hills have four children at home aged 14, 11, 6 and 3. "We try to set a good example by keeping our grades up," Cristina said. In addition to their own schoolwork, the Hills find time to help their children with homework, too. Sometimes they even find that they are studying the same things. "Before, our kids thought we were cool because we worked as cops in the military. Now, we're doing homework, just like them," Michael added. "A lot of the time, they tell us – 'hey, I know about science!' and they help us, even though they are a few grades behind."