Oakton Student Veterans Graduate from Back to Work Boot Camp

(Nov. 5, 2020) Student veterans are learning how to succeed in the workforce thanks to the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp supported by Oakton Community College.

Oakton student veterans Ryan Green (Waukegan, Mississippi High School), Katherine Madden (Des Plaines, Maine West High School), Tyler Naelgas (Skokie, Niles North High School) and Cody Shepard (Des Plaines, Deerfield High School) were four of the 20 graduates who celebrated finishing an intensive 10-week program Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the American Legion Post 36 in Des Plaines. Friends, family and supporters also participated by attending virtually.

The Boot Camp was established in 2017 by Andrea Biwer, executive director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry, with the help of various veteran business leaders and human resource directors. The program provides comprehensive career development programming using proven job-seeking tools adapted to the needs, experiences and skills of veterans.

The program connects veterans with mentors, local businesses and leaders; covers career preparation and exploration; provides practical hands-on assistance with job-hunting, resume writing and interviewing; addresses emotional and physical health and provides veterans with motivational tools needed to succeed.

“I saw it beneficial to have the opportunity to network with other veterans as someone new to the area,” Green, who served in the Navy from 2012-2016, says. “Secondly, I have a high priority on ‘getting my life together’ career-wise as an adult student. I knew I needed the help and advice offered to veterans. Plus, I found the program instrumental in getting to know myself and how to effectively navigate the job market.”

Brooke Roche, Oakton’s academic advisor for student veterans, encourages people she advises to attend the Boot Camp.

“The Boot Camp helps our student veterans with their professional transition from military to civilian workforce expectations,” she says. “Benefits of the program also include the camaraderie building with other veterans in the area.”

Oakton has been involved with the program since its inception. Other support comes from Paula Kosin, an instructor for Oakton’s Workforce Solutions. Kosin has served as a resume coach for the past three years.

“I find working with veterans rewarding and seeing their blood, sweat and tears pay off,” Kosin says. “My part is to help veterans make sure their resumes are targeted for a specific position. This helps veterans put themselves in a position to get a job they love and can do well in order to put themselves in a better financial situation.”

Oakton’s Workforce Solutions partnership with the Boot Camp is one example of the full range of cost-effective, high-quality training solutions that can be delivered at a variety of locations. Oakton’s experienced team of consultants, trainers and program managers develops customized training programs that enhance employee skills and knowledge to drive business results.

This year’s 20 graduates join a network of almost 100 Chicago-area veterans who are successfully pursuing civilian careers as well as community leadership.

“We know these veterans acquired many skills during their service, but far too many have difficulty connecting to the right opportunity that matches their skill set,” Biwer says. “We help them make that connection – benefiting both veterans and employers in our community. We appreciate Oakton’s help in referring student veterans to the program. Also, Paula from Workforce Solutions has been tremendous in helping veterans enhance their resumes.”

Even though Green officially graduated, he still wants to be involved.

“I plan to keep in touch with the other participants and hopefully be able to assist them or other veterans work toward goals,” he says. “I look forward to being a voice of encouragement for other vets that may be where I too have been after the end of service.”

On Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, ABC-Chicago’s Windy City LIVE will feature the Boot Camp at 1 p.m.


Demonstrating Oakton Community College’s dedication to those who served our country, the college earned the 2020-2021 Military Friendly School designation for the fifth straight year. The distinction honors colleges, universities and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace America’s military service members, veterans and spouses as students and ensuring their success on campus.

For more information about partnerships with Oakton’s Workforce Solutions, call 847-635-1447 or email workforcesolutions@oakton.edu.