By: Eric Ruble
In the world of public policy, military service members often witness firsthand how legislation and management at the federal and international level impact people around the world.
At the USC Price School of Public Policy, a number of veterans are bringing their military experience to campus for the first time as they seek a new type of challenge. We spoke with two such students about their time as service members and what they are most looking forward to with the return to in-person undergraduate classes.
Paying it forward
Joel Scarbriel wasn’t planning to join the military. Upon graduating from high school, he thought he had a full-ride to a college in Orange County. Shortly before he was scheduled to start classes, however, he learned he would not be receiving any financial aid due to an error the college made.
He decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
“By that time, it was too late to accept any other offer to any other school, and so I just did what I thought was best,” Scarbriel said.
Scarbriel’s time in the Air Force took him to Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. He began taking courses online through Arizona State University, and his supervisor encouraged him to pursue his degree despite his regular 12-hour workdays on base.
“I was very fortunate to have support like that,” Scarbriel said. “I made sure that when I had airmen underneath me, I afforded them that same opportunity.”
Indeed, he later guided airmen at his Oklahoma base through the college admission and financial aid processes. Those service members in turn helped others – and sometimes their children – do the same.
“I would encourage everyone who would listen to me to go continue to get educated,” Scarbriel said.
Making connections in a digital world
In the fall of 2020, Scarbriel was admitted to Price’s Real Estate Development program and began learning remotely like many first-year college students across the world. This time, he was secure in knowing his financial aid was guaranteed: USC is a Yellow Ribbon institution, as it covers 100% of tuition not already financed by the G.I. Bill.
“I can’t speak enough to how amazing that is,” Scarbriel said.
Upon Scarbriel’s admission to USC, Sonia Savoulian, the associate director of Real Estate Programs, connected him with other veterans working in commercial real estate who had graduated from USC.
Scarbriel met Matt Stewart, a former Air Force captain, USC Marshall School of Business alumnus and Price adjunct professor who is senior director of Capital Markets at the development firm JLL. Scarbriel’s connections with Steward and JLL Vice Chairman Herman Bulls, an Army veteran, eventually led him to a summer internship at the firm.
Heading into the 2021-2022 school year, Scarbriel is once again paying it forward by welcoming newly admitted veterans to Price.
A common commitment to community
Among the new students is retired Staff Sgt. Keshia Lyn Jackson, who will start her bachelor’s of real estate development program in spring 2022. Previously, she spent more than 15 years serving in the Air Force.
“I have a passion for keeping the integrity of communities,” Jackson said. “I want to make sure that wherever I decide to start my chapter with real estate development, I want to be able to preserve that history.”
Jackson joined the military because of 9/11. She was in high school at the time.
“It was a calling. This was not the time to worry about school. There was something bigger than myself going on,” she recalled.
Jackson served on U.S. bases and at one in Dubai. She worked on Boeing C-17 Globemasters and, later, Lockheed Martin F-35s.
When Savoulian put her in touch with Scarbriel, she knew she had found a community at Price before even stepping foot on campus.
“I’m all about people who have the same mindset who just want to genuinely help you and see you succeed. It’s rare to see that nowadays in organizations,” Jackson said.
Scarbriel agreed that military service provides a connection unlike any other.
“We have that bond – an understanding. We went through it and now we’re on the other side trying to help each other advance,” he said.
An exciting return to campus
Scarbriel will take in-person classes at USC for the first time this semester.
“I truly think [Price] is the hidden gem on campus,” he said. “The class size is so small and so intimate, it’s a really engaging learning experience.”
He is also looking forward to his term as president of the Trojan Real Estate Association.
“We’ve got a great group coming in. I’m really excited for the things we have planned,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jackson already has her sights set on the ultimate goal: graduation. She will be the first in her family to receive a bachelor’s degree and is excited to apply it in the real world.
“I was always interested in how real estate develops communities and watching the community grow because it brings in job opportunities,” she said.
Veterans already share a common commitment to serve their country. Now, at Price, they’ll be carrying out a new collective mission of improving communities both near and far.