Anika Coleman spent nearly half her life serving in the United States Army. She enlisted when she was a junior in high school, graduated in 2008 and was deployed to Iraq in 2009.
The Army has been everything to Anika.
“It’s been a big part of my life,” she said. “It taught me the importance of the Army Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. I learned a lot about myself during this time and met a lot of people.”
One of the people she met was her husband, Brendan. They were both in New Jersey in July 2014 for a two-week Army training session. When it ended, Anika went back to her hometown in Texas and Brendan went back to Ohio. Two months after returning home though, Anika moved to Lorain; the couple married in 2016.
“It was all craziness but we’ve been together for six years and have been married for four,” Anika said.
Anika wasn’t deployed again during the rest of her enlistment, which ended last month. She began working at Coca-Cola as a checker, verifying inventory. She said it was a good job, but it wasn’t enough. The Army was so much a part of Anika’s life that she wanted to put everything she had in the next phase of her career too.
It wasn’t until her son, Liam, was born that Anika understood what was missing – a college education and a career she loves.
A reason to attend
Anika had taken a few courses here and there at community colleges in North Carolina and Texas when she was back in the U.S., but it never amounted to more than a few credits earned.
“I didn’t have any goals when I attended college before. I was going to college just to say I did it, which is probably why I never lasted more than one semester,” she said.
Liam’s entrance into the world in 2016 changed everything. He was just weeks old when she returned to her job at Coca-Cola. But Anika could already see Liam as a high school senior, questioning the need for a college education. And using her as his reason not to attend.
“I didn’t want him to one day say, ‘Why should I attend college? You never did,’” she said. “I wanted to be a role model for my son. I wanted him to see me as a woman who served 13 years in the Army, got deployed, graduated college, and has a career, not just a job.”
Liam had given her the drive she needed to go back and finish her degree. Anika left her job and enrolled full time at Lorain County Community College in 2018 to earn her associate of applied business degree.
The will to persist
Being a full-time student, wife and mother wasn’t easy.
“Liam constantly wants to play. He’s full of energy and he never stops until he falls asleep for the night,” Anika said.
She wanted to give him all her attention while together, so that left early mornings, before Liam woke up, and late nights once he was in bed, for schoolwork and studying.
“It was hard at first but then I came up with a time schedule of when to get things done,” she said.
It also helped having many online classes, which gave her the freedom to complete her work when her schedule allowed. And when she was on campus, Anika appreciated instructors like Bethany Geiger who let her bring Liam to class when she needed.
“There was as exam coming up and that fact that Mrs. Geiger was playing with Liam and keeping him occupied almost made me cry,” Anika said.
Anika realized that her instructor didn’t just tolerate Liam tagging along, she was happy to have him there if it meant Anika persisting.
And she did. With Liam and her husband by her side, Anika earned her associate in applied business this month. She said she’s celebrating by taking summer classes at Cleveland State University. Anika is now in the University Partnership program, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership management. She’s on track to graduate next spring and would like to work in the Veteran’s Affairs office once she does.
“I have PTSD so I know how hard it can be to have a strong support system,” Anika said. “And many of the VA employees are also veterans, who struggle with their own problems. I want to help them by working in the human resources department.”
In everything she does, Anika has Liam in mind. It’s all for him, and it was all inspired by him, too.
“I want him to see how hard it was to go to college after life has happened,” Anika said. “But that I did this to give him a good life. And I want him to know that it was because of him that I had the courage to finally finish college.”