Editors Note: We are highlighting military connected students during National Military Family Month.
Jesus “Jesse” Riojas was a Recon Marine, twice deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan and twice more aboard multiple naval vessels around the world on Marine Expeditionary Units. He was a warrior.
Today, he is pursuing a Master of Science in Counseling and Psychology – Clinical Mental Health and a post-master’s certificate in military counseling. Interestingly, it wasn’t combat that drove Riojas toward a goal of helping others, but daily walks with his wife, also a Marine.
“My wife always placed an emphasis on education. She was the one who really motivated me to go to school and earn a degree,” he said. “While she was taking college courses in psychology, she would discuss what she was learning on our nightly walk together. That’s where I found a genuine interest in the topic and pursued it enthusiastically.”
The first in his family to earn a college degree, Riojas completed his undergraduate in psychology in December 2019. The very next month, he launched himself into graduate school.
“My hopes are to become a licensed counselor in Alabama and work for the Department of Veteran Affairs. This way, I can serve the veteran population better and directly,” he said, adding that one day, he hopes to complete a doctoral degree.
When he first enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2006 out of high school in San Antonio, Texas, Riojas knew he wasn’t going to college. Equally confident was the desire serve in the military – his grandfather had been in the Army and an uncle was a Marine.
“Some of my youngest memories were of my uncle’s non-commissioned officer’s sword, bullets, model tanks, and planes. It planted a seed in my head that one day I wanted to be a Marine. It felt like a missing chapter of my life all through childhood and high school that I had to see through,” he said. “Growing up in a rough area and watching all the struggles my family was enduring, college was never a thought before the service.”
In 2017, the kid from ‘the rough area’ received his honorable discharge as a staff sergeant and was a father himself – his wife giving birth while Riojas was deployed overseas.
“My accomplishments as a father make me the proudest. Growing up, I did not have a positive male role model in my life and being able to one day share with my son my struggles growing up, to how I accomplished so much in the Marines, and now my experiences and success at TROY gives me the greatest joy,” he said.
As the eldest of five children, Riojas also has a little bit of pride in leading his siblings along the way.
“I genuinely believe in leading by example and gaining experience so I can help my siblings navigate their future with confidence,” he said.
Visitors to the Montgomery Campus can catch up with Riojas in the campus’ Troy For Troops Center, where he works to help other veterans in their academic pursuits.
“TROY is a great school and really does its best to help and support their veteran students,” he said. “I have met so many people here at the University that I know have changed my future for the better.”