“Going back to school really helped me to figure out what I wanted to do and who I was.”
Ernesto Rivas vividly recalls two of the toughest years in his life.
Rivas had high expectations in 2011 after opting to leave the Marines following 12-plus years in the military. However, the harsh reality of an unforgiving job market quickly crashed those aspirations and drastically altered life as he knew it.
“When I got out, I thought I was going to get a federal job with Homeland Security right away,” the 36-year-old said. “I didn’t know the process would take about a year or longer. About four months after I got out, I couldn’t afford to pay my mortgage.”
Rivas bought an RV thinking he could rent out his house to help make ends meet.
“It was only supposed to be for three months,” Rivas said. It ended up being two years.
The unfortunate downward spiral continued as Rivas reluctantly had to rely on government assistance to take care of his wife and young daughter while living in an RV on his in-laws’ property in California. It wasn’t until a life-changing meeting with a college advisor that the former Marine learned of the advantages of the GI bill.
A visit to Indiana brought Rivas to the doorsteps of Ivy Tech’s Elkhart County campus, where he would ultimately graduate from with an associate degree in 2014, despite enduring open-heart surgery at the tail end of his final semester. Rivas studied Liberal Arts and has also earned a bachelor’s degree.
“I had no skills,” said Rivas. “All I had were my experiences from the Marines. I could not find a job, but going back to school really helped me to figure out what I wanted to do and who I was.”
He currently serves as a veteran representative for WorkOne.