(Above) Kayla Herrerra is a Collin County Health Department Outreach Worker who also serves in the National Guard. She said Collin College classes helped her adjust to life after the military.

Kayla Herrerra has spent her adult life paving the way for others. It was not easy, but that was never an issue for this driven combat veteran.

After graduating from Plano East High School, she immediately enlisted in the Army. In 2007, Herrerra deployed to Iraq, leaving her 13-month-old son back in the states. When she finally returned to America, her baby was a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler. Overseas, Herrerra served as a line medic who worked with a route clearance company—they cleared the way through treacherous terrain, rife with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), providing a safe journey for those who followed. As a medic, she helped soldiers with everything from gunshot wounds and accidental injuries to traumas. She even treated local residents and was awarded a combat medic badge for rendering care under fire.

As a female in the military, Herrerra joined the ranks of those who paved the road of equality for women.

“It is a little harder as a woman to be taken seriously as a veteran. I’ve been doing this for almost half of my life. I can spot a male vet 10 miles away, but as females we don’t stand out like that. I don’t like the differentiation. I fought to be seen and treated as an equal, which is not an easy task in the military,” she said.

After a long military career, attending college took courage for this female veteran, but she took it step by step with Collin College’s veteran-centered classes and assistance from her professors.

“The military was everything I knew. I had to learn how to adjust. My first semester was very difficult — just dealing with other students and the way they talked and treated people, the lack of respect issue. I struggled a lot in the beginning. For almost everybody, the first year out of the military all you want to do is go back,” she said.

When Herrerra came to Collin College the institution did not have a student organization, so she and other veterans founded one, paving the way for future veterans.

“I took every veteran-only class I could get into. I loved them. The opportunity to know you are walking into a familiar environment of like-minded people is what led to building the Student Veteran Association,” Herrerra said.

Today, Herrerra is a Collin County Health Department Outreach Worker who also serves in the National Guard. She helps patients with infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

“I like public health. In the military, everything we do is public health. We travel to third world countries. I learned at an early age that is the type of medicine that I like doing. Today, I do outreach work, and I work with a lot of immigrants. I am face to face with these people on a daily basis. They invite me into their homes and feed me breakfast. I have a very strong relationship with my patients.”

Hererra says her biology and biotech classes are invaluable because she has a greater understanding of how things work on a cellular and molecular level. She learned epidemiology and the life cycle of organisms, which is the foundation for her profession. But college classes have additional benefits for those who are serving in the military. They pave the way to a brighter future for those who have spent their lives in service to their country.

“College also helps me advance in my military career. Just moving through the enlisted ranks you need college. Even in the reserves of the National Guard, college can count towards your retirement. I had awesome professors and amazing classes I loved. I constantly recommend Collin College. I get approached a lot because people know what I used to do. I always tell them to start at Collin. There’s no reason not to,” Herrerra said.