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Veteran sets example for her sons by earning degree

May 3, 2023
A woman smiles for a picture
A woman smiles for a picture

KOKOMO, Ind. — A calling to make veterans’ lives better brought Trisha Norfleet to Indiana University Kokomo.

After she graduates this month with a degree in psychology, she looks forward to a career in veteran services.

“It’s very rewarding working with veterans,” she said. “They are the most selfless people I know. They are the most deserving people of my time and energy when I am away from my family.”

It’s been a long road to earning a degree for Norfleet, who grew up in Montgomery, Illinois. She married young, and supported her husband while he served in the U.S. Marines. After he completed his service, she enlisted in the Air Force. She served in operations management for the 434th Civil Engineering Squadron at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Bunker Hill.

“Getting my degree is something I’ve always wanted,” she said. “It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’ve been through a lot. I traveled on military orders that required me to drop out of classes and had to put my schooling on hold sometimes during my enlistment.”

She was medically discharged after suffering an injury during her service that hindered her ability to work toward her degree.

“I have a learning disability now that was a lot for me to go through as well,” Norfleet said. “I had to fight through a lot of that and get accommodations. It was such a relief to get that help.”

Her desire to help veterans successfully transition to civilian life kept her going.

While working at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “I realized there were skills I needed to be equipped with to future assist them,” she said. “When we started discussing details of gaining benefits, I had to understand what their needs were. I had to get detailed information, and that was uncomfortable for a lot of veterans, which I understand. I did not know how to deal with the strong emotional responses.”

She first earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College, which gave her the confidence she needed to tackle a bachelor’s degree at IU Kokomo. It’s also where she decided psychology was the field of study that would best prepare her for her career goals.

Norfleet said she had a good experience at IU Kokomo, and admires all her professors.

“It’s hard not to get bashful around them, because they are the most amazing, bright professionals I’ve ever met,” she said. “I love the small class sizes. It makes me a little more comfortable for me with my learning disabilities. I felt comfortable asking questions.”

She especially appreciated Kevin Clark, associate professor of psychology, noting that he set high standards in his classes.

“He challenges me in ways I’ve never been challenged,” she said. “I know when I first started his class, I never thought I’d be able to meet his demands, Now, coming into finals week, I feel surprised and proud I’ve gotten as good a grade in his class as I have.”

Clark commended Norfleet as “a dedicated student who makes insightful contributions to class discussions and is willing to share her honest assessments about course ideas.”

With graduation on the horizon, Norfleet is considering what job might allow her to best serve veterans.

She’s considering returning to the VA, but also is interested in working in veteran services at a college or university to help students enroll and use their benefits, or counseling them through transitioning into civilian life. She’s also met with representatives from Disabled American Veterans to see if that might be her career path.

Norfleet is excited to participate in the May 10 Commencement ceremony, where she will represent the Class of 2023 during the IU Alumni Association induction. She’s also happy for her two sons, ages 4 and 5, to be at the ceremony to see her accomplishment.

“I’ve never experienced what my sons will experience, watching one of their parents earn a bachelor’s degree from a university,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been as determined to finish school without them. They really are my drive.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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