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Merit Program Aids Iraq War Vet’s Medical Career

President's Scholars Now Recruiting the Best and the Brightest Veterans

Nov. 5, 2012

man in military uniform

Veteran Michael P. Jenkins, who served as a hospital corpsman in the Navy Fleet Marine Force, joined the President’s Scholars program this fall.

Serving his country as a hospital corpsman in the Navy Fleet Marine Force, Cal State Fullerton student Michael P. Jenkins discovered what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: help others who are medically in need.

"It was in the service that I found myself and when I realized that I wanted to take care of others," said Jenkins, who plans to pursue a career as a physician.

To help him on his pathway to medical school, Jenkins was selected as a 2012 President's Scholar. Jenkins, along with Scott Hookey, a sociology major, and Christopher Mellard, a communications-public relations major, joined the merit-based program this fall.

Jenkins is grateful for the program's financial assistance and other support to help him earn a bachelor's degree in biological science. More importantly, as a scholar, he looks forward to developing leadership skills and becoming a role model for younger students in the program.

"Being a President's Scholar is helping to keep me focused on my studies, my family and being involved in as many events and/or clubs as possible," he said. "I'm learning to be good at balancing all aspects of life in order to be a successful presidential scholar and role model for others."

This is the second year that the President's Scholars program has accepted the best and brightest students who have served in the armed forces. In 2011, three veterans, Peter Bahnev, Jacob Gomez and Ron McGill, were the first to be accepted into the program. Since the start of the program in 1979, traditionally only incoming freshmen were selected. A total of 69 students — including the six veterans — are currently part of the President's Scholars program.

"By including veterans in this program, it's not only our way of thanking them, but also to help them on their higher education pathway," said Deanna Merino-Contino, program director. "The veterans have been a positive addition for a number of reasons: They've added a degree of maturity and leadership to the program and our freshmen scholars have learned from the veterans' real-world stories and experiences of serving our nation."

Veteran candidates undergo the same screening process as incoming freshman applicants, Merino-Contino said. A selection committee consisting of administrators, faculty, staff, donors, community leaders and current scholars, choose each fall's incoming class. Plans are to continue to grow the number of veteran scholars — who are community college transfer students and begin their Cal State Fullerton studies as juniors — in the program each year, Merino-Contino added.

The President's Scholars program is designed to provide a foundation for high-achieving students to develop and realize their potential for academic, personal and professional success, as well as build the confidence and skills to become effective campus and community leaders and role models.

Students accepted into the four-year program receive a variety of benefits, including a full scholarship that covers all tuition fees, a $750 annual stipend for textbooks and the loan of a laptop computer. Scholars must maintain a 3.5 GPA, participate in university and community service activities and have the opportunity to meet with Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García.

Jenkins of Yorba Linda, who is married with three children, shares his experiences as a Navy corpsman and why it's important to him to pursue and achieve his educational and career goals.

Why is it important to you to earn a college degree?

I have a passion for academic growth and development. I want to better myself as a person, reach my full potential and, ultimately, become a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathic medicine to provide for my family and have a better future. I am motivated to continue to succeed and do well in school. Education is absolutely essential in order to be successful in all aspects of life and should always be a priority. I am persistent and determined to accomplish my future goals.

Why did you chose medicine as your career goal?

My ultimate goal is to become either an M.D. or D.O. with a specialty in cardiology or neurology. These are my two favorite areas of medicine that I have studied thus far, as well as the areas I focused on during my training and schooling in the service as a Navy Fleet Marine Force hospital corpsman.

What were your key responsibilities during your military service?

I served for five years, from 2002-2007, including serving one year in Okinawa, Japan, and three years at Camp Pendleton. During my three years at Camp Pendleton, I was deployed twice to Iraq. As a Fleet Marine Force hospital corpsman, I served with the Marines and was primarily a combat medic. I performed medical treatment to marines and civilians. While I had many other duties and responsibilities, for me, giving patient care was the most important.

What did you enjoy most about working as a hospital corpsman?

Taking on the responsibility of another person's life can be daunting, as well as immensely rewarding. As a returning Iraq war veteran, I knew that I wanted to continue in the field of health care. I had gained distinctive medical and combat experience with my duties varying from hospital care to field medicine and mass casualty situations. I was also involved with providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi nationals in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. I taught medical classes to Iraqi locals and doctors, in efforts to help them save lives and enhance their knowledge of combat medicine. I also provided emergency medical care to Iraqi locals, U.S. Marines and Army personnel during my second combat tour to Iraq.

What does it mean to you to have served our country?

I am honored to defend and serve my great country, which I am very grateful and thankful to live in. As Americans we are truly privileged. Often, we take many everyday things that we have for granted, such as freedom, democracy, habeas corpus, education, civil rights, running water, electricity. There is no other country like ours, and it is important to me as an American that I help defend it and what our nation stands for: the preservation of liberty, justice and democracy. To serve my country means to serve others first, it means camaraderie, and most importantly, 'doing the right thing even when no one is looking,' which is what my sergeant major would always say.

As we observe Veterans Day, what does the day mean to you?

It's a day to honor and pay homage to all amazing veterans — from past to present. These brave men and woman make unfathomable sacrifices every day. They put their lives on the line, and they do it voluntarily. Some pay the ultimate sacrifice, and they do it to protect and serve their country. They deserve the utmost respect, and they are the heartbeat of this country.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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