Sailors board the USS Elrod during its commissioning ceremony.
Sailors run aboard during the commissioning ceremony for the USS Elrod, one of the ships on which ODUGlobal's Dan Whiting served.

Dan Whiting’s 26-year career in the Navy included deployments in conflict zones, disaster relief, and acting as an ambassador of the military by lending a hand with community service.

Those roles constructed a diverse skill set that served Whiting when he arrived at ODU as a student following his retirement.

"All of the things you learn in the military shape who you are as a person," said Whiting, now the Military Services Coordinator for ODUGlobal. "I was a nontraditional student when I came to ODU, and my service prepared me to do well when I returned to school."

Whiting's path resembles the ones taken by thousands of veterans who've enriched the ODU community over the years. Around 6,000 current ODU students have ties to the military, from serving themselves or as dependents or family members of veterans. Service members often excel at ODU. Whiting said the more than 800 active-duty service members enrolled at ODU had a collective GPA of 3.29 in the most recent semester.

"Veterans bring so much to our community, and we have such a rich history," Whiting said. "I'm proud to have graduated from and work at an institution that values veterans the way ODU does."

Like Whiting, fellow ODUGlobal staff member and ODU alum, Melissa Ferguson similarly found herself in a better position to succeed when she returned to school following four years in the Air Force.

"You have a unique perspective because you've had a career or a job, and your goals differ from those of traditional students," Ferguson said.

Both Whiting and Ferguson came to ODU as students following their careers. After a career as a hospital corpsman and eventually a command master chief, Whiting returned to ODU to earn a bachelor's in health sciences and a master's in history. Ferguson worked as a medical technician in the service and eventually became a medical technologist. She ultimately earned her master's in instructional design from ODU in 2018.

Whiting said he felt a leadership role as a student due to his military service. He would often be the first to speak up when a professor asked a question and help facilitate classroom discussion by offering a unique work perspective.

"Veterans naturally bring a work ethic and discipline built through years of service," Whiting said. "That can be infectious in a classroom environment. But we also have this lived world experience. I've been to more than 50 countries. I can describe what it's like to walk the streets of Accra, Ghana or how it feels to transit the Suez Canal or what life is like in Severomorsk, Russia, hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle. One gains a unique perspective. Many veterans have seen the world and can relate to different cultures and bring a diversity of thought."

Like many ODUGlobal students, Ferguson balanced work and life as a military spouse and mother of two girls. She couldn't have pursued her education without the flexibility of online learning. Now, as an instructional designer, Ferguson is helping professors build online courses that students can easily navigate. Her time in the service has helped strengthen her ability to adapt quickly to new information and varied subjects.

"So many people join the military at 17 or 18, get thrown into a ship heading somewhere foreign to them," Ferguson said. "That experience changes a person. You mature quickly. And by embracing our military veterans, ODU gets the benefits from both well-rounded and mature students and employees who have a fresh perspective."

Veterans or active-duty military members can learn more about ODU’s military program pathways, which can accelerate their program through course credit.