Building community for veterans: Jake Rutherford
Building community for veterans: Jake Rutherford
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As someone committed to helping veterans and military-affiliated students succeed at Fisher, Jake Rutherford knows that it, indeed, takes one to know one.
When he sees some of these students struggling to adjust to their academic course load, Rutherford remembers the frustration of his first year as a Business Buckeye. When he’s helping them review their resumes for jobs and internships, he knows what changes to suggest. And when he hears about the disappointment from a job or internship offer that never materialized, Rutherford can empathize.
These unique skills and perspectives are as much a part of Rutherford as his can-do personality. They’re also what has helped him in his role as an advocate for military-affiliated students at Fisher.
Rutherford is one of 35 students serving as part of the Major Lawrence Miller Military Community Advocate (MCA) program at Ohio State. The program places MCAs in colleges, units and regional campuses, where they connect fellow military-affiliated students to resources and experiences focused on academic success at Ohio State and professional success beyond it.
Created by alumnus and longtime Ohio State leader Jim Miller to honor his late father, himself a double Buckeye, more than 220 Buckeyes have served as MCAs since the program’s creation more than 10 years ago. The program is offered through The Ohio State University Military and Veterans Services.
“I struggled early on first adjusting to college and then as a ‘normal’ student,” said Rutherford, who served four years in the U.S. Army’s air defense and sensor intelligence units.
“My goal as an MCA here at Fisher is to find and help students who are struggling like I was, students who may not be in honors programs but who have the service, who have completed missions and have the value that can help them in the classroom and help them stand out to employers — because I know what it’s like to be them.”
From Florida to Ohio
Rutherford freely admits that his decision to enroll at Ohio State after separating from the Army wasn’t a choice based on strategy. His girlfriend — now his wife — was studying nursing and had family in Ohio.
“Beyond that, I didn’t know anything, except it was a long way from Winter Springs, Florida, where I grew up,” he said.
A first-generation student, Rutherford began his Buckeye experience at Ohio State Newark — a starting point he says was critical to his present-day success.
“For veterans, it’s a good place because you’re not overwhelmed by everything,” he said. “The smaller classes really helped me get back into the groove and showed me what it takes to be an outstanding academic student.”
“That’s not to say it was easy. My first semester, I had so-called easy courses, like history of art and music — and they kicked my butt until I was able to find my routine and learn to become a good student.”
At the Newark campus, Rutherford discovered a passion for helping fellow military students and was selected to be part of the university’s Veteran Community Advocate (VCA) program, a role that would eventually mirror his MCA position once he arrived at Fisher and Ohio State’s main campus.
“Being a VCA helped me get my feet wet organizing activities like food and clothing drives for veterans, working with the local VFW and the VALOR Clinic Foundation in Newark,” said Rutherford, a third-year operations student.
‘A special community’
Since arriving at Fisher, Rutherford has focused his efforts on helping military-affiliated students — in his role as an MCA, as well as in his interactions with individuals and organizations outside of Fisher. Supported by a scholarship and a budget for MCA programming and events, he is laying the foundation for greater connectivity among the approximately 120 military-affiliated students at Fisher.
He recently hosted a coffee chat for military-affiliated students and a peer advisor. His priority project is the creation of a career development day to connect recruiters from companies with military-affiliated students at Fisher. The spring event will provide students with input on their resumes and elevator pitches while building confidence in their personal branding.
“This program is all about making sure our military-affiliated students are academically successful as well as helping them market their skills and providing a platform to showcase them,” Rutherford said. “On a larger scale, I’m hoping this is the latest step in improving the overall ecosystem for our military-affiliated students.”
“Simply building awareness of all of the support and programming that is available to veterans and military students at Ohio State is a big challenge.”
Meanwhile, he is utilizing his personal experiences to demonstrate to companies the importance and advantages of hiring military-affiliated students. When he landed an internship at Worthington Industries in the summer of 2022, Rutherford admits he wasn’t a typical student with a traditional background.
“I had a lot to prove,” he said. “They took a risk hiring me, so I wanted to be the best intern they ever had. I wanted to show them that by taking a chance on nontraditional students and students with different backgrounds — like veterans — it can really pay off.”
When the internship ended, Rutherford had earned an offer for a part-time job during his final year of school, as well as a full-time position upon graduation.
“I never thought I’d be where I’m at now,” Rutherford said. “There are so many people and organizations dedicated to the success of students like me — from Ohio State’s Military and Veterans Services, to Jim Miller and the Major Lawrence Miller Fund, to Lorraine Pennyman, my office lead in the Undergraduate Leadership and Engagement Office.”
“It’s a special community and I want to do whatever I can to make it even better.”
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