From the military to the classroom
Canadian Armed Forces veteran Chris Munro helps other veterans transition to university
By Will Sloan
Chris Munro was 17 years old when he joined the Canadian Armed Forces, participating in Canada’s 1980s peacekeeping missions for the rest of his early adulthood. When he left the forces in his 20s, he was in for a shock: “I didn’t know how to write a cheque. I had no idea how to set up a bank account, or do any of these things we all take for granted. So I felt completely isolated.”
Munro is now a graduate from Ryerson’s master of social work program and Ryerson’s Spanning the Gaps program, where he is now employed as a Veterans Transition to Education co-ordinator. The new program offers a support structure for veterans transitioning from the military to a new career. Munro knows from first-hand experience how hard the transition can be.
Munro took a long road to Ryerson. He enrolled in trade school, eventually building his own successful company, North Oaks Renovations, which he later passed on to his first employee. But the breakdown of his marriage left him a single parent raising two young children—a situation made more difficult by post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction issues.
“I was a street kid—I was not even 15 when I left home,” said Munro. “You never believe that you’re very smart. You’re a survivor, you can navigate the streets, you can navigate your own survival, but something like this is completely unattainable. I didn’t do well in school when I was young, so I didn’t think I had what it takes to be in academia.”
That perception changed when he enrolled in Spanning the Gaps in 2011 and took his first course with instructor Jenny Sampirisi. “Her course gave me enough encouragement to go on to the next course, and then the next course, and then into undergraduate. All the while, people are telling me that my life experience does count, which I completely didn’t believe."
He started his undergraduate studies in 2012, and earned his bachelor of social work degree. As a graduate student, his research dealt with the culture shock of transition for veterans. “It’s one thing to spend millions of dollars to train a soldier; it’s another to spend very little after the fact. With my research, I hope to advocate for that group.”
At Veterans Transition to Education, he’s using his experience to break down the psychological barriers that he remembers facing. “You’ve got that male macho bravado that says, ‘I will not ask for help. I will pick myself up by my bootstraps.’ A lot of veterans when faced with coming to school will think there are too many hoops to jump through, and say, ‘Too much—I’m out.’
“I think anybody who has gone through military training would do very well in school,” he says. “You have to think on your feet; you have to be disciplined; you need time management.” He also discovered being a mature student was a benefit in his courses. "When I was learning theoretical concepts in a classroom, I had real-life experiences to compare and contrast, which allowed me to engage with the material on a very deep level,” he says.
Both the Spanning the Gaps and the Veterans Transition to Education programs are examples of Ryerson initiatives to support mature students who otherwise might not have access to post-secondary education.
When you support Ryerson’s access to education initiatives, you help drive change.