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Graduate hopes to help her fellow soldiers

May 07, 2014 2:45PM

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Four of the soldiers Carol Meza deployed to Iraq with in 2010 later committed suicide.

“It hit me pretty hard,” Meza said.

That experience and her own struggle with the lasting effects of war have inspired Meza to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work at Pittsburg State University and now to pursue a master’s degree at KU.

Carol Meza portraitMeza was one of more than 1,100 students who were eligible to participate in commencement exercises at PSU on Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10.

Born in Texas, Meza moved as a young child with her family to Mexico, where she lived for 13 years. She came to Pittsburg as a teenager because her grandmother lived here.

Meza joined the Army National Guard in 2007 and deployed to Iraq in 2010.

“I was doing convoy security and then convoy operations,” Meza said. “I was also a suicide prevention officer.”

On July 18, 2010, Meza was driving an M1070, a heavy equipment transporter through an Iraqi checkpoint, when they were struck by an IED.

“Everything just went blank,” Meza said. “All I could see was white. My ears were ringing. I looked over to see if my partner was OK.”

Soon, medics evacuated Meza’s partner, who had suffered a severe concussion. She, however, thought she had escaped injury.

“I was not really in pain at the time,” Meza said.

But the blast had done unseen damage. Meza had headaches and soon an allergic reaction to the chemicals associated with the explosion. There was injury, too, to her back and knees.

Healing the physical injuries was more straightforward than healing the emotional ones, Meza said.

“The Army teaches us to be tough,” Meza said. “There’s this stigma about needing help.”

Meza did reach out for help, however, and through the VA received support from veteran counselors to address what was diagnosed as PTSD.

Meza said that experience was one important reason that when she returned to Kansas, she enrolled in the Social Work Program at PSU, where she also minored in psychology.

Kristen Humphrey, associate professor in the social work program, said Meza was an outstanding student who influenced others.

“She excelled in her classes and continually supported other students,” Humphrey said. “She started the Dana Cameron Scholarship for social work and justice studies students to honor the wife our Brad Cameron (social work program director) after Dana's death last year. She has been active in Social Work Plus (our social work club) and Phi Alpha (our honor society). She also became a mother during her time in the program.”

Meza said she formed strong relationships with faculty in social work, psychology and other departments across campus.

“I truly enjoyed working with all of my teachers,” Meza said. “They all have prepared me for the next big step.”

Meza was named one of the outstanding social work seniors this spring.

Meza said the goal that drives her is to help others like herself.

“I would love to work with vets someday, maybe through the VA,” Meza said. “I can relate to what they are feeling and what they’re going through.”

It looks as if she’s going to get that chance.

Meza has been accepted into the Advanced Standing Clinical Masters program of Social Work at KU and has won a $10,000 Wounded Warrior Scholarship to support her studies.

Meza said she and her 1-year-old daughter, Heidi, will continue to live in Pittsburg while she attends school at KU’s Edwards Campus in Overland Park. Meza said the blended program consists of weekend classes every other weekend, online classes and a practicum.

“I’m really excited about the future,” Meza said, “and I’m really appreciative of the support I’ve had from PSU faculty across the campus.”

©2014 Pittsburg State University