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Army veteran, military spouse Cooper juggles college, family with great success

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Nothing worth having comes easy – a lesson that former soldier Kali Cooper understands as well as anyone. But the services Austin Peay State University provides military and veteran students did make the transition to college life a little less difficult.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Nothing worth having comes easy – a lesson that former soldier Kali Cooper understands as well as anyone. But the services Austin Peay State University provides military and veteran students did make the transition to college life a little less difficult.

A Minnesota native who left her home and enlisted in the army at the age of 17, Cooper’s life has more or less revolved around the military ever since. A former military policewoman, Cooper was stationed at Fort Campbell when she met her husband Zachary, a former 159th Combat Aviation Brigade soldier.

Like many military relationships, the couple has bounced around the country, first to Fort Lee, Virginia, then Fort Rucker, Alabama, where Cooper’s husband trained to become an army helicopter pilot. As her husband’s time as an active duty soldier wound down, the couple returned to Fort Campbell, where they live with their two young daughters, Halie and Jordan.

Right around the time her family began its transition to the civilian world, Cooper said she and her husband began to look to the future.

“Our plan was that we were a dual-military family, so since I got out first, I’d go and get my degree and then get a job,” Cooper said. “That way when he got out of the military, we could switch off and he could go back and get his degree as well.”

Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Cooper graduated from APSU in 2015 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in management with a minor in finance in 2015. An accomplished student, Cooper graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was honored as one of the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Upon graduation, Cooper was honored by APSU’s College of Business by being chosen to serve as a gonfalon carrier during the Spring 2015 commencement exercises. Gonfalon carriers are selected for academic excellence in their chosen field.

Cooper’s academic success was not without difficulty, as the responsibilities of parenting alone during her husband’s deployments demanded no small amount of sacrifice and focus. With both of her daughters active in extra-curricular activities, achieving her own goals without sacrificing her daughters’ growth meant a constant juggling act.

“People would tell me they didn’t know how I was able to do everything when I was enrolled in school full time and my husband was deployed and my kids were in sports,” Cooper said. “But there really wasn’t an option because I’m not going to take opportunities away from my kids because I was in school. Just because mommy is in school and daddy is deployed doesn’t mean you can’t do running club and softball and gymnastics and Girl Scouts and whatever else you want.

“It was important that my daughters saw that there isn’t an excuse to not do something because it’s hard,” Cooper continued. “I didn’t want them to see me make excuses. Yeah, it was hard sometimes to manage everything, but you shift things around and make it work.”

Cooper returned to APSU last summer to begin work on a master’s degree in management, and is on track to complete her studies in Fall 2016. And true to their original agreement, Cooper’s husband left the military in late 2015 and began work on his own education – recently wrapping up his first year at APSU towards a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry.

Armed with advanced degrees in business, Cooper said her dream is to work in a role that allows her to help other veterans. All too often, veterans find post-military life to be challenging, and she said her hope is to use her combination of APSU degrees and military experience to lend a helping hand.

“I love being able to help and give back to my fellow veterans and military spouses,” Cooper said. “People who aren’t veterans often don’t know how to deal with the unique concerns of veterans, so it would be nice as someone with common experiences to be in a position to work with (military veterans and their families).”

Twenty-five percent of APSU students have a military connection, making the University the state’s largest provider of higher education to active duty military, veterans and their families. The University works hard to provide assistance and services to these individuals, and APSU is consistently recognized on the state and national level for its efforts.

APSU’s dedication to veterans and active duty military students, Cooper said, played no small part in making the transition from military to student life easier.

“Austin Peay is great because 25 percent of the student population is military, and so many students here are non-traditional students like me, which was a lot different from previous schools I had attended,” Cooper said. “I was used to (being the only military student), as well as the oldest student in the classroom, so it was harder to find people with the same life experiences.

“(APSU) was the first school where I never felt out of place.”

For more information on APSU’s programs for active duty, military family members and veterans, visit www.apsu.edu/military.