Meet Our Winter Quarter Military Scholarship Recipients!

Each quarter Optimal awards two $5,000 scholarships to applicants who have some connection with the U.S. military. These winners demonstrate not only a desire to pursue higher education goals, but also a willingness to push through the unique circumstances that often accompany individuals who have been in (or in some way closely tied to) the military. Our winter quarter scholarship recipients, Latoia Smith and Jordin Koonce, are women with inspiring, thoughtful aspirations to tangibly strengthen and teach their communities. We are excited to share more of their stories with you!

Jordin Koonce Jordin Koonce is studying animal sciences at Washington State University. She comes from a multi-generational military family, and has seen how service and emotional support dogs can be of enormous comfort and value to those suffering anxiety. Through volunteering at the Equest Special Riders Program, Jordin has also seen how horses can help people with special needs. Once she has obtained her degree, Jordin hopes to start a Community Veterinarian Educational Consortium to facilitate volunteer and mentorship opportunities for animal science students. This would be a means to teach and learn, giving students hands-on experience and a peek into different work options within the veterinary sciences. Jordin wants to organize community events where dogs and humans benefit – such as dog-friendly community fun runs. She also hopes to facilitate informational sessions for prospective pet owners, so they can learn about the true cost of adopting a pet. She would also like to host clinic days, where volunteers offer free pet screenings.

Having been raised by her mother – a combat helicopter pilot in the army who took online classes and raised three kids – Jordin has learned a lot about time management. Jordin believes that through her close-up experience of how animals can help people and her educational experience showing how people can help animals, her community vision could come to life. “What an amazing morning!” Jordin wrote to our scholarship board. “My mom and I were talking about scholarship applications that I need to complete and expenses, and then I opened my email to find out I won the SR Education Military Scholarship! Such an incredible way to start the New Year as I head back to class!”

Latoia Smith Latoia Smith is studying business administration at Purdue University Global. Growing up, Latoia watched her grandmother welcome in children from the foster care system, often bringing in children who were deemed too old or too difficult to care for. Latoia watched her grandmother impart love and support where these kids were often left without resources – especially once they turned 18. Latoia wants to pick up where her grandmother left off by creating a veteran-owned real estate business, which would offer to subsidize for adults who had been in foster care and have not gotten help in what steps to take next. She hopes to offer these individuals affordable rates and maybe classes on job training, parenting, and other life skills.

Latoia joined the U.S. Army at 18 as a patriot missile operator. She enjoyed the camaraderie and learned structure, discipline, and loyalty. Her unit was deployed to Kuwait, and also to Baghdad and Nasiriyah in Iraq. While deployed, Latoia witnessed how life is not easy or convenient for many people. Food, the ability to leave and return, the ability to be with friends and family – these things seem simple, but they should not be taken for granted. After returning to the U.S., Latoia felt an urgency to give time and care to her community. She went through some challenges in her personal life, and that has renewed her determination to complete her degree. In so doing, she hopes to set a strong example for her three boys. “The moment I received the email telling me I had won the SR Education Group Military Scholarship,” Latoia wrote to our scholarship board, “I cried and did a happy dance in my office. I re-read the email over and over and promised I would not let myself or the scholarship board down. This is what I needed to finally finish my degree and jumpstart my future and achieve the many goals I have set for myself to help others. Thanks so much for this – I cannot explain the happiness I feel at this moment!”

Although scholarships are only a piece of the complex puzzle of completing a degree, they are a crucial part for some students. The Optimal team is grateful to have gotten to learn about Latoia and Jordin, and we look forward to seeing where their education journey leads them. The military scholarship for the spring quarter is open, and can be found here. If you (or someone you know) has military ties, a dream to obtain a degree, and a need for financial assistance to earn that higher education degree, we encourage you to submit an application.