Air Force veteran Jana Aydelott-Leeper came to the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith after an intense career in the military as a weather forecaster and observer, looking to enrich her natural talents in entrepreneurship. The Roland, Oklahoma, native traveled to 28 countries while on active duty but returned home to the River Valley to earn her degree in a supportive, empowering community.
"I love being able to attend university in the community that has enriched my life in so many ways," said Aydelott-Leeper, "I continue to find the guidance, love and support that I love about Fort Smith each time I return."
During her active duty career, Aydelott-Leeper lived in Germany for three years, writing weather forecasts for Europe, the United Kingdom, Africa, the Middle East and the States. From giving weather briefings to developing aviation forecasts for pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft, she played an integral role in mission planning. Aydelott-Leeper helped develop training materials for forecasting weather in Africa and worked with the army at Fort Hood, where she forecast her first tornado.
"I got to sound the tornado siren!" she said. "I was able to predict the tornado in time to shelter people and secure aircraft."
Aydelott-Leeper venture-capitalized her first business at 19 years old and enrolled at UAFS to pursue a business degree, but left the program to find direction through military service. Working in meteorology opened her eyes to the complex relationship between technical aptitude and creativity - an understanding that would inform her college career when she returned at 34.
"Having worked in a branch of science that is equally as mechanical as it is creative is something that has changed my brain for the better, and helped me to be able to look at small parts while visualizing how the whole of something may function."
After three changes of major, Aydelott-Leeper found the Adult Degree Completion Program with a focus in Organizational Leadership, a program that rewarded her career and military experience and shed light on the intricacies of corporate administration that could fill-in her existing knowledge of business ownership.
A wife and mother of three, full-time student, registered yoga instructor, and owner of Natural State People Supply, Aydelott-Leeper entered the ADCP program with a wealth of knowledge that is respected and rewarded.
Even in a supportive academic program, returning to higher education as a nontraditional student was a difficult transition. "In a sense becoming a student has truly felt like starting over," she said. "As we gain experience, it can be common to master our various life roles, and complacency can creep in. Entering back into the world of academia has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I've had to ask myself some hard questions about my intentions, abilitiesand resources. It's definitely not easy to balance the workload of school with a family and business, but it is an enriching challenge."
Through the UAFS Student Veterans Organzation, Aydelott-Leeper also found a community of students striving to assess their abilities and aptitudes in post-military life.
"The SVO is a wonderful community hub," she explained. "Adult students, military veterans, and especially female veterans, are a minority in the classroom, and it can sometimes feel isolating to feel like most students are not truly peers. I've spoken to other veterans on campus that truly feel the SVO is the place they can come and feel the camaraderie and 'belonging to something bigger' that we become accustomed to during our military service. The feeling of being amongst welcoming peers is incredibly comforting, especially for those of us who haven't been in a traditional classroom setting in a decade or more."
The understanding and acceptance found in the SVO add to Aydelott-Leeper's motivation and positivity, empowering her to prosper academically. Though she feels supported by the organization as a whole, Heather Redding, President of SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society, stands out as a leader.
"She is a fellow female veteran who makes it her personal mission to welcome and support veterans and those interested in the organization. Female veterans are a minority, and, occasionally people can forget those female veterans exist. It can be much more difficult for female veterans to access their military benefits, suitable employment, find camaraderie and unpack the specific considerations that we might bring back from our enlistment. Heather is genuinely committed to reaching out and making sure veterans know they have a compassionate peer. "
"The SVO truly transcends personal politics or stance on the military mission," she added. "It puts the focus on the people who have served our country and brings awareness to the sacrifices the families and individuals make as part of military service. "
Aydelott-Leeper, who earned a 4.0 GPA her first year back, intends to stay in Fort Smith when she graduates in 2020, putting her academic degree to use in the River Valley.
"What I'm learning at UAFS will continue to guide my entrepreneurial decisions and business choices," she said. "I feel that the community of Fort Smith provides something special in the way of opportunities for people who don't fall into a traditional professional category and provides ample opportunities for professional mobility and success."
About the UAFS Adult Degree Completion Program:
Through the Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP) at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, non-traditional students in the workforce can advance their career by earning a college degree through a streamlined educational experience.
UAFS uses a nationally recognized method of awarding college credit for your past experience, whether it's from work, seminars, military education, or training/certificate programs.
The ADCP Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership is the top degree for adult learners at UAFS. Students learn higher-level thinking and decision-making skills which advance their careers across many business sectors. This is a modern degree and highly desired by employers due to the students' ability to lead, communicate, analyze, and effectively make decisions in turbulent, fast-changing workplaces.
BSOL graduates are specialized in developing relationships, building teams, influencing decisions, and motivating people to achieve organizational goals.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally.