MISSOULA – For veterans pursuing higher education directly after active duty, navigating a university setting can be a challenge. Going from the structure and regimen of military service to a free-form campus lifestyle can sometimes require guidance and advice from others with shared experiences.
For first-year law school student and former Navy Nuclear Engineering Technician Kimberly Torheim helping fellow vet students settle into life at the University of Montana is not only her job, it’s a passion.
Torheim has a work-study internship through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and spends 15 hours a week at UM’s Military and Veteran Services Office.
“Each university is different in how they interface with military benefits,” Torheim said. “We help veterans navigate through UM’s processes.”
The Military and Veteran Services Office provides a supportive experience for military-affiliated students as they seek associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as technical certificates. The office helps active duty members, veterans, military spouses and dependents maximize their educational benefits, including the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program, military tuition assistance, financial aid and more.
Patrick Beckwith, director of UM Military and Veteran Services, said the department can be the first point of contact for students using their military benefits.
“We act as a liaison between the military and university,” he said.
There are currently over 280 student veterans going to school at UM. There also are over 1,000 military-affiliated students, all being helped by the UM Military and Veteran Services Office.
“People come in and ask ‘What do I do?’ and ‘How do I do that?’” Torheim said. “We help point people in the right direction.”
Torheim grew up in the small farming community of Marblemount, Washington. As a teenager, she knew that she wanted to see the world. The Navy became that outlet. After signing up at 17, she tested into the nuclear program and did two years of focused training.
“I come from a middle-class family, and my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college,” explained Torheim. “I tested well enough to get into a top program within the Navy, so I went with it. It was a great way to pay for school.”
After graduating as a Navy Machinist’s Mate Nuclear Technician, Torheim was deployed to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in service since the 1970s. Her job included chemistry and radiation control. It was like working at a nuclear power facility, just on the water, she said.
Torheim was part of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2016. She was stationed in Bahrain, Dubai and Marcelle, France.
“Getting to see other cultures gave me a larger world view,” Torheim said. “This experience helps me relate to others and gives me an understanding of how many places and situations people come from.”
After finishing her service to the country, Torheim used her military benefits to enroll in UM’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law.
“The Navy taught me how to learn and study,” she added. “Now I know how to apply myself and memorize things quickly.”
Initially, Torheim thought she would pursue criminal law, mirroring her major as an undergrad.
“This last semester sparked my interest in environmental law, which was surprising to me,” said Torheim. “I am excited to learn more and get into the community practicing law.”
Torheim said she appreciates the flexible schedule offered by the Veteran Services Office, which allows her to focus on her studies while still being able to advocate for others who share similar experiences.
“Student workers are the best conduit between veterans and the campus,” Beckwith said. “Kimberly is able to relate to the wants and needs of students coming from similar situations as herself and has a great ability to help veterans navigate the university system.”
“It feels really good to help out other vets,” Torheim said. “No matter the branch of service, there is a commonality, we get each other.”
Contact: Phil Stempin, director of events, marketing and communications, Alexander Blewett III School of Law, 406-243-6509, firstname.lastname@example.org.