Mending the civil-military divide: As president of the Student Veterans Association, Corey York ’19 bridges two worlds

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Student Veterans Association Corey York '19 was stationed in Athens, Greece as part of the U.S. Marine Corps' Marine Embassy Security group. COURTESY PHOTO / COREY YORK

Each week, The Flat Hat profiles one person — a student, faculty or staff member, or alum that is deeply connected to the College of William and Mary. This week, The Flat Hat presents its first profile in a series about student veterans on campus.

After six years serving as a member of the United States Marine Corps, Corey York ’19 has traveled to four continents and almost a dozen countries. He decided that his next step in life would be completing an undergraduate degree, and after making a quick search engine query on top public universities, he found himself moving to Williamsburg, Virginia to attend the College of William and Mary.

The College was not York’s first college experience; he graduated from Monroe Community College in 2011 with his associate’s degree before he joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman. Not long after, he was selected to the Marine Embassy Security group, whose mission is to provide Marines for duty at designated diplomatic missions in support of the Department of State.

Over six years, York was stationed in Athens, Greece; Nairobi, Kenya; Lagos, Nigeria; Wales, United Kingdom and Bangkok, Thailand. As an infantryman, he also was stationed in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Hawaii.

“I was really excited to come back to school, excited to learn,” York said. “I think it’s been a challenge. Like I said, I was an infantry guy at first, there wasn’t a whole lot of academic or intellectual stimulation, insofar as a formal setting. … So I found it a challenge to learn how to take effective notes, how to do effective studying, have parity with my peers. I was able to do that, only because I probably worked a lot harder than I did smarter to get a good GPA. The professors here have been tremendous and understanding, and I’ve had great interaction with the student body here.”

On a path to return to public service, ideally as a foreign service officer, York chose to major in government and minor in history at the College. He’s particularly enjoyed taking classes with government and international relations professor Dennis Smith, who is now York’s major adviser.

“The thing I love about Dennis Smith is that I think I learn something new every day in his class,” York said. “They’re 50-minute classes, [but] I could spend three hours in his lecture hall. I felt challenged, he has high expectations … he has clear cut, concise, ‘If you do X, you see Y results.’”

Outside of the classroom, York is the president of the Student Veterans Association, a position that keeps his calendar booked. He’s served as president since October 2017. For York, being president of SVA is very rewarding, and he said he’s thankful for the opportunity to guide the other undergraduate veterans at the College. There are currently 20 identified members of the organization and York is working to target the other 30 undergraduate student veterans who are not yet involved.

One of York’s priorities with the organization has been to bridge a gap he sees between the traditional student body and student veterans. To do this, he’s working to increase the presence of SVA on campus and plan events to get more traditional students involved with the group. To honor the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day Nov. 11, SVA is planning military exercises for the student body to participate in on the Sunken Garden. There will also be a tug-of-war competition between SVA members and members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

“Student veterans bring diversity, life experience to campus,” York said. “The traditional students push us. I am a very A-type, driven person. I have sat next to several brilliant students in class who have pushed me to academic boundaries I don’t know if I would have [reached] if I hadn’t come to this school. One of my goals as president has been to try to help mend the civil-military divide that exists, to challenge the student veterans to get out of their comfort zone and to get students to realize we might have a few tattoos, be a bit more muscular than some and have a few more colorful words, but we don’t bite.”

His responsibilities as president include working on both day-to-day and long-term goals. For example, he said he found himself spending three hours trying to help veterans register for mandatory COLL 150 classes, which their social classes barred them from receiving priority registration for. Going back and forth from appointments with the Office of Academic Advising, he soon found his morning Friday, Nov. 2 had flown by.

York also participates in the William and Mary Military and Veterans’ Affairs Working Group. Through these two organizations, he’s working on creating a better alumni network for student veterans, making clearer job and internship pipelines and developing a scholarship to help veterans with families pursue unpaid internships that would be beneficial on their resumes.

“If we’re able to pull that off, we’re able to have that solidified, being able to alleviate some of the financial burdens … that will live long past me, past whoever is the next president and be the most exciting and rewarding thing to come to fruition,” York said. “Knowing that a student veteran won’t be inhibited from demonstrating the range of ability they have, but had been prohibited from undertaking … being able to facilitate that professional development without any worries is the most exciting.”

While he’s still wishing to have a few more hours in each day, York has also added some more long-term projects to his to-do list. He’s reached out to veterans’ organizations at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in hopes of creating bonds and is also lobbying for the College to hire a full-time representative to assist veterans. He has spoken with former College President Taylor Reveley and current College President Katherine Rowe about his goals. He’s still waiting to hear back from the graduate organizations and financial constraints have stalled his dream of seeing a full-time representative at the College, but he’s hopeful that the work he’s doing now will continue to have impact.

Under York’s presidency, the College’s chapter of SVA was represented at Orientation for the first time this year, thanks to a partnership he formed with the Office of First Year Experience. After adding new members to the organization through Orientation, he said he’s seen a 95 percent retention rate for members in SVA this fall.

“I would just love the student body to know [that they can] feel free to approach us,” York said. “We’ve got experience in the job workplace, we know how to network, how to do those things. … I am always willing to help. … The biggest thing I would want students to know is don’t be fearful, don’t feel intimidated. Many of us want to help and want to have discussions.”