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Nick Williams gains perspective and purpose for law enforcement career
During the spring of his senior year at Burr & Burton Academy, Nick Williams had several college acceptance letters sitting on his desk. But, he recalls saying to his parents at the time, “I have no idea how I’m going to afford this.”
“It kind of soured the process for me,” says Nick, now 24. “I didn’t want to be in crushing debt when I was done.”
So he started talking to an Army recruiter. “The recruiter said there was a tuition benefit program. My mom said I needed the military in my life,” recalls Nick with a laugh. So, about a month before high school graduation, he took the oath to join the Vermont National Guard.
That summer, while he was away at boot camp in Fort Benning, Georgia, his mind returned to those college letters.
“I called my mom from boot camp, and I told her, ‘There’s a letter from Castleton sitting on my desk. Can you call them and enroll for me?’ So my mom completed my enrollment, and she even went to orientation for me, since I wouldn’t be back in time. That September, I came home from boot camp, and the next day, I showed up for my first class.”
Nick is now a senior at Castleton, majoring in Business Administration, and on track to graduate in December. Throughout his college experience, he’s had more commitments than most college undergrads: a drill weekend once a month, a two-week training every summer, and a couple of deployments. While it’s sometimes been a challenge, he says he wouldn’t change a thing. “I’m really glad that I did it. The National Guard was good for me because it provided structure, instilled values, and made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself.”
And, in fact, being in the National Guard allowed Nick to miss out on what he says was the worst part of his college experience: COVID-era virtual learning. “I struggled with it. It was difficult,” he admits. Fortunately for Nick, his first activation, for two months stateside in early 2020, came at an ideal time.
His next deployment in the spring of 2021 sent him to Kosovo, this time on a longer peacekeeping mission that lasted through February of 2022. He spent that year with Bravo Troop 1-172nd Cavalry Regiment out of Bennington, and he says the experience taught him a lot.
“Getting exposed to different cultures broadens your horizons. After being in Kosovo, I can look at things and realize how fortunate we are here. We take so much for granted, and we don’t always appreciate what we have,” he says. “We have reliable institutions in Vermont. We know the trash will get picked up, and if our lights go out, they’ll get turned back on quickly.” Being in a place that doesn’t always have those “little things,” he says, made him appreciate what we have.
The experience also gave him a newfound appreciation for college, which, luckily, was back to in-person classes by the time he returned. “I came home from Kosovo, and I said, ‘okay, I need to go back to school.’” Looking for guidance in re-entering college to finish his degree, he turned to VSAC, a program he had become familiar with at Burr & Burton.
VSAC’s Martha McCaughin is an education counselor with the VSAC Educational Opportunity Center, which supports adults and non-traditional students looking to complete their college education.
“Nick returned from active duty in March 2022, and he was referred to me for assistance in re-entering college to finish up his degree,” Martha recalls. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Nick and appreciate his willingness to serve. He has been easy to work with—proactive about getting the assistance he needs and in asking questions to make sure he understands the financial aid process.”
For Nick, the financial aid applications were particularly difficult to navigate on his own, and even though his tuition was covered through the military, the FAFSA paperwork was still required. “Some of those boxes, you just scratch your head at. VSAC has been a huge help.”
After being overseas, Nick found he was also able to approach his education with renewed focus and commitment.
“My perspective changed when I came back from that deployment. Things that were hard before seemed a lot easier. I knew if I put the work in, I’d get a good grade. I felt more in control of my destiny,” he says.
And he saw the results. Nick made Castleton’s President’s List for the fall semester of 2022, earning a 4.0 GPA, and he also received the Endowment Scholarship from VSAC.
Nick will be leaving the military in April 2024, and he is currently looking for opportunities to start a career in law enforcement. “The National Guard gave me a foundation. Now, the job search has started,” he says with a laugh.
Law enforcement is a family tradition. Both of Nick’s parents are retired police officers, having worked in the Sheriff’s Department in LA County, California, before the family moved to Sunderland, Vermont, in 2013.
“As a police officer, I want to see communities grow, and I want to be able to help people through their worst moments,” Nick says. “The military has shown me that having a higher purpose and helping people is what makes me happy.”
One challenge that he has run into, Nick says, is the fact that most organizations want someone with a bachelor’s degree as well as five years of experience. “It’s hard for a young person to get started,” he says.
He credits Diane Torres of HireAbility Vermont—an organization with which VSAC’s EOC often partners—with helping him to “find a career, not just a job. My career options are broad, but Diane has conversations with people in the community and puts my name out there. It’s been a huge help.”
If he hadn’t been connected with VSAC and with HireAbility, Nick says, “I would probably be where I am, but the amount of work and trial and error would have been much higher. Just having people to steer you in the right direction is huge.”
For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops and events. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at email@example.com.