When Staff Sgt. Bryanne Peterson turned 17, she had a plan  she would become the first woman in her family to join the military, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfathers.

Now an Army veteran and reservist, this School of Education doctoral student is also the winner of a prestigious scholarship from the Association of the U.S. Army.

Peterson accepted the Leon Van Autreve Scholarship during the December 2017 award ceremony of the Association of the U.S. Army. The scholarship supports soldiers dedicated to serving the nation by pursuing self-improvement.

For 16 years, Peterson has served in the U.S. Army as a drill sergeant, a training noncommissioned officer, a platoon sergeant, and a mentor to junior soldiers. She has taught basic combat and warrior task training in the field, instructing others in first-aid techniques, procedures for carrying the wounded across battlefields, and weaponry skills. In 2008, she deployed to Iraq.

In her current military role, she serves as an Army Reserve public affairs specialist at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

Peterson’s desire to join the Army began during her teenage years in Front Royal, Virginia.

“In my family, when you come of age, you’re supposed to join the military for a couple of years,” she said. “It’s just what you do.”

She begged her parents to sign her enlistment consent forms, and although they complied, her father did not expect her to survive basic training. Only after she became a drill sergeant did he admit she had proved him wrong.

But Peterson knew she would succeed. Even as a teenager, her academic experience had provided her with a quiet confidence. She was a math prodigy, so her mother, a teacher, arranged for her to take advantage of a dual enrollment program.

While other eighth-graders planned for ninth grade, Peterson took courses at her local community college. Consequently, her first year as an undergraduate sociology major at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, was also the equivalent of her freshman year of high school.

Leon Van Autreve Scholarship Winner
Bryanne Peterson attends the scholarship award ceremony with, from left, retired Gen. Carter Ham, president and chief executive officer of the Association of the U.S. Army; her husband, Easton Peterson; and Kenneth Preston, vice president of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs of the Association of the U.S. Army and a former sergeant major of the Army.

Between family duties and her early military career, though, Peterson finished her bachelor’s only a year earlier than her same-aged peers. After graduation, she worked in the construction industry as an estimator, and there she learned something pivotal.

“I found I enjoyed the training I was providing more than the actual work,” she said.

Through her mother’s encouragement, Peterson became a long-term substitute teacher. When her mother retired, her daughter took her place as a business-education instructor and realized that her interest in helping educate others had developed into a passion.

During a conference on education, she met several alumni from Virginia Tech’s School of Education. They impressed her with their dedication to the field. She applied for the program and received her master’s in curriculum instruction in 2011.

“It was the community and sense of duty that came with being a student here that attracted me to Virginia Tech,” she said. “You don’t just get a degree to hang on your wall; you get an education that helps you make the world a better place.”

She had found her niche.

“I want to help,” Peterson said. “I know what it’s like to be the student who’s an outsider. It all comes down to the same thing — all students need individualized educations tailored to their needs.”

Through her pursuit of a doctoral degree in integrative STEM education, she is positioning herself to help the greatest number of students by educating other teachers.

This instinct flows over into her role in the Army.

“Even when I’m in uniform, I’m still a teacher at heart,” she said.

And she plans to stay active in the military and become a commissioned officer. After a decade and a half, she still enjoys the Army’s challenges.

“It’s not just that I get to serve,” she said, “I get to improve myself while serving.”

Peterson volunteers as a Girl Scout troop leader, a Lego Competition Robotics coach, a cross-country coach, and a 4-H instructor. She’s also active with the Virginia Tech veteran community.

“She earnestly cares about the veteran community,” said Jerry Headley, veterans affairs coordinator at Virginia Tech. He hopes her story will inspire other veterans to apply for scholarships.

Those who have served in the U.S. military can visit the Virginia Tech Office of Veteran Services website to learn more about support opportunities.

Written by Leslie King

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