Troops to Teachers

Program aids military service members and veterans in the transition from serving in the military to serving as educators

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Since 1993, Troops to Teachers has been supporting and assisting military service members and veterans in earning teaching certification and beginning careers as educators. Next week, Victoria Sockman and Mark Mlikan will complete the program here at Slippery Rock University and receive their teaching certificates.

According to Monique Alexander, assistant professor of early childhood and special education and Troops to Teachers grant director, SRU’s TTT partnership with Temple University was established in 2017 with the help of a $272,000 grant and in 2018, the college of education received a $1.6 million federal grant and a five-year extension for the program.

“I’m essentially the liaison between SRU and Temple,” she said. “I oversee recruitment, marketing and scheduling. A large part of my involvement is grant administration and a smaller part is connecting with veterans and military members who may be interested.”

Victoria Sockman, who served in the United States Air Force, was finishing her undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology and a minor in public health from the University of South Florida in 2017. She spoke with her advisor about continuing to serve while continuing to educate others and they discovered SRU and its brand-new TTT program. Sockman was the first person enrolled in SRU’s program.

“I was really excited to be the first student, and also nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Sockman said. “What really drew me to SRU was all the support from the university; they made sure all my questions were answered and they took the time to place me in a placement related to my undergrad. That’s made me a better teacher overall, working with students who are excited to learn what I teach them.”

Sockman was placed for her year-long internship at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, a magnet school in Oakland.

Mark Mlikan is a retired Naval officer who served 22 years in the United States Navy. Mlikan said he knew about the Troops to Teachers program coming out of the military and when he saw a flyer announcing SRU’s partnership, he was happy to enroll. He said he wants to continue to serve his country as an educator, and after receiving his certification, he wants to work in “one of the great Pennsylvania public schools.”

“I feel more than prepared to meet any challenges I may face,” Mlikan said. “I had an absolutely wonderful year student-teaching and I thank Slippery Rock for the opportunity.”

Mlikan spent his year student teaching at South Butler School District.

Students enrolled in TTT are assigned two instructional coaches, advisors and additional support throughout the year-long program. Additionally, their tuition is paid through their GI bills and after graduation, students receive assistance in securing jobs in the education field. The program’s objectives are to increase the number of male and minority educators, address the teacher shortage in K-12 schools, reduce veteran unemployment and overall improve American education.

Alexander said TTT places the troops in high-need areas, and due to the year-long residency, it’s a very unique experience. She said the year-long experience makes a difference because it’s a big deal to see the same students through from the beginning to the end of the school year.

“It gives them the confidence and experience they need to enter their own classrooms,” Alexander said.

According to the program website www.ProudToServeAgain.com, more than 20,000 veterans and military service members have completed the program and transitioned to a successful career in education.

“I love the military, I miss it, but I do feel like I’m serving again,” Sockman said. “I’m still able to give back in some aspect. I really feel like I found my passion in teaching.”

After she finishes her program on May 10, Sockman will accept a position teaching biology, chemistry and psychology at Summit Academy, a charter school dedicated to helping troubled youth find their path again. Sockman will also receive her master’s degree in education from SRU in August.

The next class of TTT students will begin its program in the pre-summer semester. There are two students in the upcoming class, according to Alexander: one is enrolled as a full-time student and one is part-time. The COE is keeping enrollment open for now to encourage more troops to get involved.

“Completing the program is a phenomenal accomplishment,” Alexander said.

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