Portraits of veteran scholars across America
As Veterans Day approaches, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the military and veterans community. From local artists to community leaders to technology innovators, veterans contribute not only to our workplace, but to our neighborhoods and culture. This dedication to serving the community is what inspired me to enlist in the California Army National Guard four years ago. I was already working at Google, but was inspired by some of the Googlers I met who had served in the military. It's one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’m one of the leaders of the Google Veterans Network, a volunteer employee resource group that strives to make Google one of the best workplaces for veterans and service members. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Google Veterans Network and since 2014, employees have volunteered over 7,300 hours of service with veteran organizations.
As part of our ongoing commitment to veterans, Google works closely with the Student Veterans of America to support the Google SVA scholarship and invites SVA scholars to the company’s annual student veterans summit. This SVA scholarship helps encourage veterans on their path to attaining a computer science or IT-related degree; applications for 2018 are still open.
I’m continuously humbled by the contributions of our service members and their willingness to share their experiences. So as part of the multiple ways we’re recognizing veterans this week, we’re taking the moment to highlight incredible Google SVA scholars that are strengthening their communities and themselves.
Gabriel De La Cruz, 2014 recipient
In 2005, Gabriel De La Cruz, a newly arrived immigrant from the Philippines, decided to join the Navy. As a Hospital Corpsman with the Marines, Gabriel was deployed on three separate combat missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, which instilled in him a deep sense of mission and passion for helping others.
Back in the Philippines, he’d gone to school for IT, and upon leaving the military, he decided to resume his studies in that area. He searched on Google for “scholarships for veterans,” and learned about the Google SVA scholarship. He says it changed the way he saw his future in pursuing a degree for computer science.
“It was a humbling opportunity, and allowed me to understand that there’s a potential of changing people’s lives,” he says.
Today, Gabriel is a graduate researcher, pursuing a Ph.D. at Washington State University. His goal is to build more intelligent robots that accomplish tasks ranging from helping older generations who have cognitive disorders to reducing casualties on the frontlines. He says his time in the Navy and his interest in robotics are coming full circle.
“I’m most satisfied when I’m able to help the people around me,” he says.
Elizabeth Jones, 2016 recipient
When Elizabeth Jones joined the Marines in 2005, she was confident she’d be in for life. But soon after she enlisted she began experiencing seizures, and left the corps in 2007.
Her transition back to civilian life was jarring. She felt she’d lost the camaraderie of her fellow Marines, and struggled to find a new purpose in life. Ultimately, Elizabeth decided to go back to school at the University of West Florida. There she pursued a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering after a trusted professor told her she’d be “wasting her intelligence” if she didn’t. She applied for the Google SVA scholarship at the urging of a fellow student veteran, and found the experience incredibly rewarding.
“It helped me push through and not give up when it was really hard,” she says. “And Google’s done a lot more for me than just giving me a scholarship. I feel like it really showed me that there are people like me doing great things with their degrees.”
Elizabeth is putting her electrical engineering degree to work as a systems engineer for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, in Keyport, WA. There, she works on anti-submarine warfare systems to protect American soldiers at sea.
“I think that people take their place in life for granted, and I don’t feel that way,” Elizabeth says. “I feel very grateful that this is where I’m at in life, and it was made easier than it could have been with the Google SVA Scholarship.”
James Matthew Landis, 2015 recipient
Army Veteran James Matthew (Matt) Landis always knew he’d join the military. His grandfathers and uncles had all served, and he decided to enlist after college. During his 10 years in the Army as an Apache Longbow helicopter pilot, Matt sustained several head injuries that left him disabled. Upon leaving active duty in 2009, he decided to go back to college, first for art, and later for computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he was awarded the Google SVA scholarship for his degree, which had a huge impact on his career.
“It was one of the first real affirmations that I was actually talented and worth investing in,” he says. He also met a community of veterans working in tech who he could relate to. “People didn’t just say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ All they cared about was ‘can you code?’ That was so refreshing,” he says.
Today, Matt is an embedded systems engineer for the University of Pittsburgh where he works on software for robotics technology with healthcare applications, including prosthetics and adaptive sports technology.
Matt is also committed to his work at No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to saving the lives of America’s Wartime Allies—interpreters and others that assisted U.S. troops—and their families. Already they’ve brought eight families from Iraq and Afghanistan who served as interpreters and helped them acclimate to their new lives. In addition, he’s running programs to bring STEM education to these same communities. He says, “When I start to imagine what it’ll be like when these families have their children and children's children in 50 years … I’m incredibly proud.“