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Ben Hallstrom: Student Veteran and Non-Profit Entrepreneur

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Name: Benjamin Hallstrom

Major: Mechanical Engineering & Applied and Computational Mathematics

Age: 34

Hometown: Clearwater, FL

Her Campus (HC): Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Ben Hallstrom (BH): I’m a second-time student veteran. I served in the Marine Corps and after that, I went back home to Clearwater and got my AA there. I went to USF for a year and I hated it. It just wasn’t a good fit. So, I came up to FSU and got a degree in Social Science. Then I had a short break and had the opportunity to come back to FSU and pursue a degree in Engineering. Then, I picked up the second major of Applied Mathematics because I just like that stuff. It was a difficult decision. I was in the hiring process for some jobs, some good ones and then I found out that I qualified for this program to be able to do my engineering degree. So I was like, well, I’ll just do that for a semester and see if I want to be back in school. And that was three years ago. It’s been an interesting route.

HC: What are something of the things you do on campus?

BH: It’s different being older than most students, so finding a niche was always kind of difficult. I’ve always been involved in the veteran’s groups on campus. I was part of the CVA—that was pretty big for me. When I started engineering, I started seeing a gap between the being a student veteran and my STEM-focused degree. So, I kicked around the idea of STEM Vets for a while. I used to joke that I kept trying to find a reason not to do it and I couldn’t find a good reason, so I went ahead and started doing it and now I love it.

Courtesy: Ben Hallstorm


HC: What is the college experience like for student veterans?

BH: We have about 250-300 student veterans at FSU in any given semester. Generally, the trend is around 30% of Student Veterans are focusing on a STEM degree. That may seem like a small number at Florida State, but nationally, there are about half a million student veterans, so 30% of that is like 150,000. There are about half a million veterans pursuing higher education. And we know this because with the post 9/11 Montgomery GI Bill, students register in the system and we can track and research them. So some of the interesting things are that of half a million student veterans, 46% have children. The average age is between 25 and 30. There are studies that show that around 50% of student veterans are first generational students. I don’t like to use the word “challenges,” but some of these things are like hurdles that need to be jumped. And here’s an interesting fact when it comes to women veterans: the military is about 17% female, but when you look at the student veteran population, 27% [are] female. And, I don’t have the numbers, but women veterans are way more likely to pursue a STEM degree with their military benefits.

HC: Wow, I didn’t know that. That’s really cool. What are some of your personal long-term goals?

BH: I still love math and science and engineering. I have to do everything to prepare to have a science/engineering career. I don’t really know what my dream job would be—I’m interested in so many different things. But this program I started and is now a non-profit [and] I really enjoy it a lot. Being a veteran is the most important thing to me and I love STEM, so I’m kind of getting to do both. I’m networking with companies like Northrup Grumman and I’m not really getting to do “science-y” things with them, but I’m helping place people so more science can happen. If I could choose, I would want that to be my job.

HC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BH: I’d like the student community to know a few things. Student veterans are a small group of people. And, you know, a traditional student is young and straight out of high school. You might see that older person sitting in your class and they might be wearing a hat with an American flag or something and you find out they’re a veteran. And at first, it’s difficult to network with students because you’re a lot different than them, which I understand. It doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything, but I started seeing a lot of people seem like they were afraid to talk with me because I would just think they’re some stupid kid because that’s the perception of veterans. But that’s not the case—it’s not the case at all. I’ve been in a college environment for like six years now, meeting young, civilian students like you, for example, and it reminds me every day of why I served. I’m so proud and happy to be here. So, don’t be afraid to talk to that old guy sitting in your class or the mom taking courses because they’re happy to be here and to be with you and to get opportunities too. Coming to FSU was the best decision I ever made. It’s opened up so many more doors.

Her Campus at Florida State University.