Kristen Schilz was born in Miles City, Montana, and grew up in Boise, Idaho. In school, she was on the drill team and practiced ballet and piano. She was 17 when she enlisted in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm.
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CU Denver ranked No. 8 on Military Times’ list of best universities for veteran and military-affiliated students.
The Army moved her from the comforts of her hometown to South Carolina, where it was a very different way of life.
“There’s much more diversity in South Carolina than in Idaho,” Schilz said. “I was definitely out of my comfort zone.”
Taking some life adventures
Later, Schilz moved to Texas for dental assisting tech school, relocated to Hawaii for the Army Reserve and landed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. Her military travels also took her to Louisiana at one point. While at Fort Carson, she voluntarily separated with an honorable standing from the Army in 1998.
After leaving the Army and working in an oral surgery office in Colorado Springs for 12 years, Schilz decided that it was time for an adventure in her life. She moved to Sitka, Alaska, where she worked from 2014 to 2015 as a salmon grader, assessing the quality of fish.
“This was the hardest work I have ever done in my life!” Schilz said. “But I loved Alaska. It’s so beautiful. I rode my bike to work every day, and I loved it.”
Heading back to the classroom
After Alaska, she moved back to Colorado and started attending the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She majored in biology, but after some degree exploration and research, she found the Department of Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at CU Denver. She decided to move to Denver for a better living situation and CU Denver’s academic program.
At first, Schilz faced challenges going back into the classroom.
“I had to retake several classes, and I had a difficult time sitting still and concentrating,” she said. “I felt like there was a disconnect between what I knew and my ability to articulate my knowledge on exams.”
Through Veterans Affairs, she was able to get evaluated and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It really hinders my ability to learn and pay attention,” she said.
Locating university resources
Once Schilz had the diagnosis, she came to Disability Resources and Services and was approved for accommodations, including having peer note-takers and an individual room for testing, recording and note-taking technology. She also started using the AT computer lab, where she could study, print for free and have access to computers. She checked out an iPad for recording.
Schilz was also able to obtain a service dog through the Veteran’s Puppy for Life Organization. She named the dog Miles after her hometown in Idaho.
“The university has been so accommodating with Miles,” she said. “I was in the process of getting him when I came to Disability Resources, and the fact that I could talk to my coordinator before getting him and have my accommodation letter ready to go was so helpful.”
Advocating for students with disabilities
In fall 2017, Schilz was selected to be a chemistry learning assistant.
“I was so blessed to have this opportunity, because it was a great experience to work with other students and to learn more about the chemistry program,” she said. She hopes to work in the environmental chemistry field, testing water and soil samples or air quality.
Schilz is an example of a student advocating for herself and for students with disabilities.
“I tell people, ‘Use your accommodations if you have them. They are there to help you. It’s okay to ask for help. Also, don’t be afraid to look for people who need help,” she said. “The way I see it, you’ve got to give it away to keep it. For me to get the help that I need, I need to help other people.”
Guest contributor: Stephanie Robbins, Office of Disability Resources and Services