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Barbara Kent, recently-named Director of Military and Veteran Affairs at Eastern Kentucky University, has experienced the university as a “school of opportunity” firsthand.

A military veteran, Kent came to EKU in 2010 as a temporary, part-time administrative assistant without a college degree. Now, in addition to earning a director position, she is preparing to graduate in May with a master’s degree – the first in her family to do so.

“I am truly grateful to EKU for providing this opportunity, and my message to others is to never give up on your education, and to never stop learning” Kent said. “It is life-changing no matter what age you are.”

During her 10 years in the military, she worked her way up to the rank of sergeant in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp of the United States Army. After leaving the army, she held upper-level administrative support positions at other universities, including West Point Military Academy. Yet, she said, she would always be limited by her lack of a college degree. In her search for a workplace with both career and educational opportunities, EKU stood out. She was hired as an Administrative Assistant I in the Office of University Counsel. “I felt if I got my foot in the door it would lead to greater things,” she recalled.

The next nine years would prove Kent right. When her position became a full-time, permanent position in February 2011, she decided to pursue the one thing she had yet to accomplish: a college degree. That summer, she enrolled in her first college course. “I remember picking up my handbook that summer and feeling it was the beginning of a journey I had wanted to take all my life,” she said.

In August, Kent began her first semester as a part-time student, and was promoted to Administrative Assistant II in the former College of Arts and Sciences. In that position, she directly assisted the associate dean and managed curriculum revisions for 16 departments. That was where she solidified her love of working with students and expanded her knowledge of program and graduation requirements.

Kent graduated summa cum laude in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in political science, and was soon after named Director of Policy and Legal Operations. In May, she will graduate from EKU with a master’s of public administration degree. She credited Debra Bush, school certifying official, with guiding her through the enrollment process. Bush is now Kent’s colleague in the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, a central part of the office’s dedicated and professional team, evidenced by the fact that EKU consistently ranks in the top 10% of “Best for Vets” in the nation by Military Times. Recently, EKU online was named Top Ten among Military Friendly Schools. “I was very excited about the possibility of joining this distinguished team,” she said.

As director, Kent oversees efforts to enroll, retain and support veterans, service members and dependents at EKU. Her goal is to expand outreach efforts to campus about the office’s services. “As with any other student population, the more knowledgeable the faculty and staff are regarding available resources, the more likely we are to retain and graduate our students,” she said.  

Grateful for the opportunities the university and the military gave her, Kent sees her new office as the perfect way to give back. “To join the Military and Veterans Affairs team and support our current and future student veterans, service members, and dependents in achieving their educational goals is an honor and privilege,” she said. “I truly would not be where I am if not for EKU being a school of opportunity.”