Phillip Leonerio, Bachelor of Science in Nursing '17

From Sergeant to Student: In the Service of Others

A sergeant in the California National Guard faces a new challenge: college.

Phillip Leonerio ’17 grew up in Stockton, served as a U.S. Marine in the Middle East and western Pacific, and built highways when he got out. He's a sergeant in the California National Guard and the son of a champion boxer. Not much scares this 35-year-old veteran. But one thing has been fairly daunting: going back to school.

"The transition was kind of tough for me," Phillip says. "I had to relearn and re-establish my study habits, and be in an environment where I'm around people who don't understand military culture."

However, USF has made the re-entry process as painless as possible. Phillip enrolled in January 2014, after attending community college, and is working toward two bachelor’s degrees from the School of Nursing and Health Professions. Most of his classes take place at USF’s Sacramento campus, where the nursing school offers clinical rotations focused on care for veterans through the VA Northern California Health Care System.

The small classes are really valuable, especially when you're older and you're a vet. It can be nerve-wracking for us. It's more comfortable having 10 sets of eyes on you rather than 50."

"The small classes are really valuable, especially when you're older and you're a vet," Phillip says. "It can be nerve-wracking for us. It's more comfortable having 10 sets of eyes on you rather than 50. And being able to stay with the same cohort — people who know me and know my learning style — has helped a lot."

He'd always been drawn to the health care field, but he wasn't sure which path to pursue. His time at USF has widened and sharpened his perspective.

"I felt that it would be a great introduction to different health care occupations, to get to know the inner workings of the administrative side and hospitals and policymaking," Phillip says. "But it's surpassed that. I'm amazed by the opportunities it has presented."

One of those opportunities is an internship he secured in neurology services at San Francisco’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he focuses on customer service and clerical support. His duties range from scheduling patients' appointments to analyzing data and sterilizing equipment.

After he graduates, Phillip wants to be a psychiatric nurse and work with veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"People are telling me not to put all my eggs in one basket," he says. "But I'm so partial to USF that my eggs are here. This is my home."