The former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant served three tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2007, leading a platoon of soldiers assigned to Personal Security Detachments for high ranking officers and officials who traveled through some of the most dangerous areas of the country. But taking college classes proved to be an even greater challenge to overcome–until he came to Missouri State-West Plains.
Cavitt joined the Army 1996 and spent time with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea and the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., before being assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2001. In between his tours in Iraq, he tried to take some college courses available to military personnel at Fort Hood, but "they were online, the instructors wouldn't communicate well with you and they were large classes. My deployments also interfered with my ability to complete them. As a result, I didn't do so well," he explained. He decided to put college on the back burner while he completed his military career.
By 2008, Cavitt had rejoined the civilian world and, because of previous training, he quickly found employment as a boilermaker, a job that took him across the country. Meanwhile, his wife, Anyta, was winding down her own military career. Assigned to a finance unit at Fort Hood, she received her discharge in 2009.
Shortly after, Cavitt and his family visited Missouri. "I have a brother in Alton and after visiting here, we liked the Ozarks so much we decided to make this our home," he explained. They moved to the West Plains area in 2010 and in spring 2011, Anyta decided to use the benefits of her GI Bill and enroll in classes.
Because of his work schedule, Cavitt found himself at home during the summer months, so he decided to give college another try and enrolled at the University for the 2011 summer session using his own GI Bill benefits. His first two classes at Missouri State-West Plains were Principles of Sociology and Introduction to Philosophy, the latter with Dennis Lancaster, director of the William and Virginia Darr Honors Program.
The help he received that summer through the student advisement & academic support (SAAS) center and the encouragement he received from Lancaster and Coordinator of Student Advisement Veronica Mays, who also works closely with veteran students, made the difference in Cavitt's second attempt at college.
"Veronica takes all of the guess work out of what you need to do," he said. "She's always available to answer questions and when I was debating entering the honors program, she gave me the final nudge and encouraged me to do it.
"Dennis also encouraged me early on," Cavitt continued. "What you learn in his classes forces you to step outside the box and question what you've always believed. It's given me a different perspective on life."
Cavitt made the Dean's List that summer and decided to enroll full time. He continued to excel in the classroom, following up with selections to the Chancellor's List the next two semesters. He's also become a fixture at the University's new Veterans Incentive Program (VIP) center, located on the lower level of Garnett Library, where he helps fellow veterans. "The VIP center provides a nice, safe area where we can study. If we need anything, the staff help us promptly. They provide great guidance, especially when working with the Veterans Administration. There's a lot of paperwork involved and they take care of it," he explained.
In addition, Cavitt works as an intern and tutors students in English, history, honors and speech for the University's TRiO program, the VIP center and SAAS. He also serves as a peer leader for the STudent Advising and Registration (STAR) orientation.
Cavitt is on track to graduate in December 2012 with the Associate of Arts in General Studies with a Specialization in Honors degree and an Associate of Applied Science in General Technology degree. He plans to continue his education through Missouri State-Springfield, where he will obtain a Bachelor of Applied Science in Technology Management. Ultimately, he said, he would like to rejoin the boilermaker's union and find a job in construction management.
None of this would have been possible, however, without the help and support he found at Missouri State-West Plains. "I don't know if I would have stuck around if it weren't for Veronica and Dennis. Veronica welcomed me in, Dennis helped me develop critical thinking skills and Danny Hobbs (a per-course sociology instructor) was just fun to be around. I haven't met an instructor here I haven't liked. They've challenged me in a way that has helped me better myself," Cavitt said.
"Everyone, from the counselors to the instructors, has been encouraging and motivating," he added. "From day one, they have taken a personal interest in their students. I would recommend Missouri State-West Plains to anyone."