Student veteran finds new path at campus following Army service

DUNMORE, Pa. — During his high school years, Brandon Sicovitch struggled to earn good grades. By his own admission, he lacked the necessary direction and motivation.

So, upon graduating from North Pocono High School, he opted against college for another path — the Army.

“When I was 18, I thought, ‘I’m not going to college,’” he recalled. “I was so sheltered, and I just wanted to get away from this area. For me, the only way to do that was going into the military.”

Brandon Sicovitch and a friend pose with honorary certificates they received

Penn State Scranton sophomore and U.S. military veteran Brandon Sicovitch, right, and a friend are all smiles after receiving "Best Squad Leader in Battalion" Army Achievement Medals. 

Credit: Provided

It turned out to be the right choice, and Sicovitch did plenty of growing up during his four years of active-duty service with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which was followed by an additional year in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Though he loved his time in the military, he yearned for a new challenge. Eventually, he found it at Penn State Scranton.

A sophomore majoring in business marketing and management, Sicovitch is thriving since returning to the classroom. He’s taking 17 credits this semester and currently carries a 3.6 GPA, which is especially impressive when you consider he’s up every day before dawn loading trucks for UPS from 3 to 9:30 a.m.

“In high school, I was a C student. But I matured so much during my time in the military, and it really built a solid foundation for the work ethic I have now,” said Sicovitch, 24, of Scranton.

Sicovitch wasn’t quite sure he wanted to attend college upon leaving the military. That was until he met Enrollment Specialist Stacy Shattuck, the campus’ veteran certifying official and the cheerleading coach of Sicovitch’s girlfriend, Teresa Allen.

After Shattuck explained all of the educational and financial benefits that were available to him as a veteran, Sicovitch realized that a college education — specifically, a Penn State education — was an investment worth making.

“When I think of colleges in Pennsylvania, I think of Penn State as the best. The others are secondary in my mind. I didn’t even have a second option – I just wanted to come to Penn State."

“With the Army, they offer you these benefits to attend college, but they never tell you how to use them. But Stacy took the time to take me through the entire process and make it as easy as possible for me. She not only helped me with my benefits, but even took the time to help me look for apartments. She literally went above and beyond what her job asks her to do, and I feel like I owe her many IOUs. Every time she does something great, I say, ‘Put it in the IOU box.’”

“When I think of colleges in Pennsylvania, I think of Penn State as the best. The others are secondary in my mind. I didn’t even have a second option – I just wanted to come to Penn State."

— Brandon Sicovitch, Penn State Scranton student and U.S. Army and Pennsylvania National Guard veteran

“The first time I met Brandon I was immediately struck by his kind and thoughtful character,” Shattuck said. “As we worked through his admission process and I helped connect him to some additional resources that would be of great value to him, he never failed to offer his sincere gratitude for my help. All I could think whenever he thanked me was that I should be thanking him for his service. He is the epitome of the great student veterans we have at Penn State Scranton.”

Indeed, students like Sicovitch fully demonstrate to Shattuck the need for the campus to continue enhancing the resources it provides to its veteran and active-duty military student population.

“The more we work to serve our student veterans, the more they seem to give back to our campus and community,” she said. “We are continuously working to find new and better ways to be the campus that can fit the needs and expectations of our country's service members. As we continue to build relationships with local veteran organizations, we hope to offer more services, education and opportunities to the military-affiliated community in NEPA.”

Since enrolling last fall, Sicovitch is thoroughly enjoying life as a college student, even with the changes to campus life in response to the continuing public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sicovitch loves the campus’ scenic beauty, and he’s already become close friends with a fellow student vet, David Guilles, who he met when they were in the same New Student Orientation (NSO) group.

Sicovitch has found the coursework to be rigorous, and he often spends several hours using his homework to master the material. But, he noted, “I like to challenge myself.”

While not a huge fan of virtual learning, Sicovitch gave high marks overall to his courses and instructors, citing in particular Lecturer in Business and Economics Frank Sorokach and Assistant Teaching Professor in English Kara Stone.

“Everything has been going really well, and I feel like everything is easily accessible here,” said Sicovitch, who’s trying to convince a couple of his vet friends to enroll at the campus. “Anything I need, it’s not hard to obtain. The professors are very accessible and accommodating. Last year, when I was still in the National Guard and I had drills, they would help me by rescheduling tests.”

Sicovitch has found the coursework to be rigorous, and he often spends several hours using his homework to master the material. But, he noted, “I like to challenge myself.”

“By the time of the exams, I’m prepared,” he said. “I get annoyed sometimes with some of the kids who don’t show up for class. You’re paying to be here, and you’re not doing the work and showing up? Sometimes, I feel like an old man around them, like I’m 10, 15 years older than they are, even though I’m only 24. When you go through an experience like I did in the Army, you have a different perspective on things.”

A desire to serve

Sicovitch said his high school self probably wouldn’t recognize this current version. Back then, he said, “I was very shy and intimidated by everything. I wouldn’t go after anything. I never did my homework. I didn’t try. I just did the bare minimum.”

At some point, though, he felt the pull of military service. About four months after graduating from North Pocono, he enlisted.

“I just forced myself to do it. My mom wasn’t too happy,” he said with a laugh. “I left for basic the day after Christmas. I was terrified. I didn’t even how to get through an airport.”

While at the Syracuse airport, Sicovitch asked for directions from a passerby. His name was Malcolm Brady, and it just so happened that he was also on his way to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Given the strange coincidence, Sicovitch took it as a sign that he had made the right decision.

Once he made it through the physical and emotional gauntlet of basic, Sicovitch was certain about his choice. He spent the next four years stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st brigade, 2nd battalion, 327th infantry regiment. Eventually, he rose to the rank of specialist.

There, he and his fellow infantry members spent their days partaking in endless drills and training maneuvers, whether on the gun range or doing 8-12-mile marches with 45-pound rucksacks strapped to their backs. He also performed vehicle maintenance. The point, he said, was to always be “combat ready.”

Along the way, Sicovitch gained a firm devotion to physical fitness, and developed ample reserves of self-discipline and a service-above-self ethos. And, of course, he formed lifelong bonds with his fellow soldiers.

“The Army itself, I have nothing bad to say; I give all the credit to the Army,” he said. “The situations are tough, but the people make it. When you’re just out there feeling like garbage, you look around and see everyone else suffering and you don’t feel so bad.”

Sicovitch considered making the Army a full 20-year career, but ultimately decided the demands of infantry life would take too much of a toll on his body.

Instead, he’s on to his next mission — completing his business degree, with intentions of opening his own business someday.

Until then, Sicovitch’s life will remain a balancing act between the physical demands of his job at UPS and the mental rigor of his coursework. It’s challenging, for sure, but, he said, “I’ve been through worse.”

“I’m just trying to learn and grow. Now, I want to learn — it’s fun to learn, as cheesy as it sounds. High school me would be upset with that,” Sicovitch said with a chuckle. “I call this ‘normal world.’ There’s normal world, and there’s military world. I know out here in normal world nothing can test me as much as in the military.”