Jane York ’19 is this year’s Graduate Student Advocate (GSA), but offers her own unique perspective on the job as a Navy veteran. A theater major at Rutgers University, York was motivated by the human experience and art as a healing mechanism. Her affinity for helping people drew her to the Navy, where she dedicated her time to supervising junior sailors and offering support. As GSA, York provides assistance to graduate students with guidance about academic performance or personal issues.
Student Affairs had the chance to speak with her and her journey from theater major to the Navy and Graduate Student Advocate.
Q: What mentoring opportunities did the Navy give you?
A: I was very lucky in that I got many opportunities to mentor and develop Sailors throughout my time in the Navy. When I graduated from my technical school, I was automatically advanced to the rank of Petty Officer and immediately started supervising junior Sailors. I started with a team of 12 Sailors and, by the time I left my first Command, I supervised a squad of 35 Sailors and Marines. Sailors would come to me with a variety of concerns, not all of them job-related.
Q: How did those relate to your new role as a GSA?
Similarly, graduate students will contact me with presenting issues ranging from housing problems, to problems with registration, academic hurdles, or mental health. I learned in the Navy that you have to treat the whole person in order to understand how problems in one area of life can affect all areas.
Q: Did your career path change after the Navy?
A: At face value, the past 10 years of my life may appear really disjointed and kind of random. I graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts, that’s the arts conservatory out of Rutgers University, with a BFA in Theater back in 2008. I worked for 4 years and then joined the Navy where I served as a military police officer. Following my 5 years of active duty, I transitioned to the Reserves and have been pursuing my Master’s in Social Work at Stony Brook.
Q: What parallels do you draw between your academic and Navy career?
A: So, all of these endeavors might seem like they don’t quite fit together, but the truth is that there is a common thread running through all of them: a call to service. I wanted to become an actor because I believe that art is healing. It can be cathartic to watch your human experience play out on stage, to see your life mirrored back at you. I wanted to serve an audience in that way. And then in joining the military, I wanted to serve my country, to give up my freedom for a time in order to protect and defend the freedoms of others. Social work fits in with that desire to heal others, to respond to the needs of those who are hurting.
Q: Is there anything you learned as a GSA that you wish you knew in the Navy?
A: I wish I had known that the skills I acquired in the Navy would continue to serve me in my role as the GSA and in my academic career in general. I’ve learned that military training goes well beyond my military police training. In the Navy, I learned how to communicate, effectively and efficiently, with people from all walks of life. The military taught me how to work independently and how to work in a team. There is a certain level of stamina needed to see yourself through an arduous mission and, let’s be honest, graduate school can sometimes feel like an arduous mission. While I was still on active duty in the Navy, I wasn’t confident that my skills would translate in the civilian world. And actually, applying to the School of Social Welfare felt like a long shot to me. I thought, “how are they going to see a social worker in a military police officer?” But, obviously, they did and so many people do see the value in veterans, be it in a university setting or a job setting. Before I applied to Stony Brook, I figured the obvious path for me would be to apply to the Suffolk County Police Department, or work Corrections, something security related since that’s what my background was in the service. And there’s nothing wrong with those career paths, but they would have been wrong for me. I feel passionately about social work, I truly believe that this is my calling and that I’m right where I should be.