From ships to seminars: U.S. Navy veteran Meg Roche ’18 moved cross-country to pursue physical therapy

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During her time in the Navy, Meg Roche ’18 was deployed around the world during her career from the Persian Gulf, San Diego and U.S. South Pacific Islands. COURTESY PHOTO / MEG ROCHE

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 third profile in a series about student veterans on campus. 

A little over a year ago, Meg Roche ’18 took her first classes at the College of William and Mary. Now, in just a few weeks, she will be graduating and moving on to post-baccalaureate work at Fordham University, en route to accomplishing her dreams of being a physical therapist. 

Her path to becoming a physical therapist involved a six-year detour — a detour that led her around the world. Roche joined the U.S. Navy in January 2010 and served until January 2016. After two years of training, she was stationed in San Diego, California, working as a fire controlman, a position where she was responsible for maintaining combat and weapons systems on ships. 

“I did two deployments,” Roche said. “The first one was to the Persian Gulf and we went everywhere. I met the ship in Singapore on Christmas Day in 2011 and they were just starting a deployment. I went with them to the Persian Gulf and we went to places like Petra and Bahrain and Dubai.” 

Roche’s second deployment was a little different. During her first, she was on a ship responsible for transporting U.S. Marines. In 2013, she was on a ship transporting doctors, humanitarians and environmentalists to islands in the South Pacific. She visited the Marshall Islands, Tonga, American Samoa and Majuro on missions including sustainable resourcing and health care projects. 

Before she came to the College, Roche had to make a cross-country move from California to Virginia. She started out at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, hoping to transfer to Old Dominion University, but then someone told her to aim for the College — what she now sees as the best stepping stone to physical therapy school. 

“I was working at a school where there were a lot of kids with disabilities,” Roche said. “In the classroom that I was working in there was a 10-year old boy with multiple disabilities, he had never walked. A physical therapist said, ‘I think he can walk,’ and sure enough, every day we worked with her, the teacher in the classroom and I, and we got him up and got him doing his therapy. In six months, he was not just walking, but running and going up and down ramps. It was so motivating and awesome to see. I want to be able to identify those benchmarks that a lot of doctors might say, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ I want to be the doctor that says, ‘Yes you can.’” 

On campus, Roche is majoring in kinesiology with the Allied Health Concentration, which is designed for students pursuing physical or occupational therapy. 

“I think that definitely my favorite classes have been with [kinesiology professor] Bob Cole,” Roche said. “Like Motor Control, I really enjoyed the seminar class where we can discuss the topics that are interesting and relevant to the course. I find a lot of it is really motivating, learning how motor systems work. I find it relevant to what I’m trying to do in physical therapy.” 

When she’s not in the classroom, Roche spends her time in Williamsburg as an employee at Aromas on Prince George Street and as a member of the Student Veteran Association. With SVA, she said she participates in monthly meetings where the group discusses ways for student veterans to share their military experience with the broader campus and ways to increase resources allocated to student veterans. 

“It’s kind of hard for us as students to just walk in … with very different backgrounds and try to be able to relate to other students,” Roche said. “One thing we are trying to do is recruit more student veterans. I think [the College] is a good learning environment. That’s one goal we have. … We want to get to know everyone better and be more immersive so we are working on ways to do that.” 

Roche said she has mixed feelings about how being a student veteran has impacted her time at the College. 

“I think it’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time if that makes sense,” Roche said. “It’s been really interesting to take a look at the way we are learning things and how we are learning. I guess, as a veteran, it’s different when we’re coming in with a different background. We find importance in different things, it’s a little difficult because we are older, we don’t see things the same way. I feel that other people perceive us differently as well.” 

One of her favorite memories at the College, however, comes from a time when she realized she did belong. Roche said that during her first semester fall 2017, she was very stressed and was having a hard time feeling like she fit in on campus. She said this was also something she had been worried about before she transferred, because she knew that there would not be many other older students in her undergraduate classes. 

“There was one night in my Science of Nutrition class, where I said something strange when I raised my hand to answer a question and I was really uncomfortable,” Roche said. “It was a really stressful thing for me. … Another student had sort of noticed that and when I went to the restroom during our break, someone had left one of those ‘You Belong Here’ sticky notes in the bathroom and she passed it over to me. Maybe she didn’t notice I was stressed out and having a hard time, but it was a great feeling that someone did that.” 

Now, when she graduates in a few weeks, Roche will be moving once again — this time, to Fordham University in New York. She will be completing post-baccalaureate work there, primarily in physics, and then applying to graduate programs in physical therapy for the fall 2019 semester.