When Kevin Deraps ’18 enrolled in college in his 50s after an Army career, he was motivated by not wanting his GI Bill benefits to be wasted. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he has been surprised by how his Johnson State experience has transformed his life.
As a soldier, “Your only job is to learn how to become the most efficient you possibly can be and the best trained you can be in very violent situations,” Kevin says. “I did that for so long I felt completely off center, with all my energy focused on that. Now I’m moving toward a much more balanced self.”
Part of that balance comes from his time at JSC as he works toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Kevin is enrolled at Johnson State as part of a new partnership between JSC and nearby Vermont Woodworking School, in which students take classes at both locations to earn an associate’s or B.F.A. in Fine Woodworking and Furniture Design.
“Going to school, being around the faculty and learning about different aspects of life instead of just what I knew has been very enriching,” says Kevin, who transferred to JSC from Burlington College. “In the military, you are surrounded by young people all the time… Being in college and around young people is very comfortable for me.”
Johnson State’s small classes and the ability to form tight connections with professors are an invaluable part of his education.
“For someone like me who’s been out of school for so long, it’s nice to be able to ask questions in class and arrange for office time with professors,” Kevin says. “At Johnson, you really sense that the professors are there for students. There’re no teaching assistants who show up because your professor is busy doing research.”
JSC has helped make Kevin’s college experience positive. He’s working with the college administration to broaden Johnson State’s outreach to veterans and planning ways to get more vets involved with the campus veterans’ center.
“From the very beginning, Johnson made everything as painless as possible, from signing up for classes to enrolling in school. They were very welcoming,” says Kevin, who wants to coordinate activities such as hiking and camping trips for student-veterans. “The professors are embracing of veterans.”
Campus veterans liaison Tammy Goss “is so on top of everything she does. She takes care of you,” he says. “All you have to worry about is showing up for classes.”
Kevin retired from the Army in 2008 after serving for 25 years, with deployments to Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq. That included a stint as an instructor at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Jericho.
JSC has been a welcome change and challenge. And with a long career behind him, college has given Kevin a new focus.
The Fine Woodworking and Furniture Design program draws on his experience from middle-school woodworking classes. “Seeing other people’s art and how people can take furniture design to a whole new level has been very interesting and eye-opening,” says Kevin, who lives with his wife in Fairfax and has a grown son.
“The faculty, the quality of craftsmanship in their work and going through the critique process make you less apt to cut corners and more motivated to put forth your best possible work,” he says.
Through JSC, Kevin is motivated to explore the world of learning.
“It’s a whole different part of my brain being used. I went from the primal survival instinct of staying alive to learning everything else that’s out there,” he says. “I don’t see it ever stopping.”