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Student uses Army experience to excel in the lab

Eric Wilson

Honors student Eric Wilson is working this semester on biology experiments in a laboratory alongside doctors of science and Ivy League medical students as part of his internship at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando.

Wilson, 36, says the connections he made at Seminole State College of Florida and the resources made available to him, as well as the experience garnered from his time in the U.S. Army, helped him land the internship. Now he studies things on the cellular level, researching everything from cell tissue cultures to genotyping and cloning.

“I’m not necessarily running the research, but the role I fulfill is essential to creating working models on which to base grander experiments,” Wilson explains. “I get the opportunity to learn a lot of methodology about how to do lab work and research. We do a lot of work on problems relating to things like diabetes and obesity.”

Wilson says he attended Seminole State just out of high school but was lacking direction. But he found the discipline he needed several years later when he joined the U.S. Army in 1999. “I was kind of a clown,” he says. “I think I just needed the discipline to succeed. The Army gives you that discipline — that respect for people who know better than you do.”

Wilson isn’t alone. At Seminole State, there are nearly 1,000 veterans who chose to attend classes after they finished their service, many of whom take advantage of the benefits offered by the Veterans Affairs Office, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program and the Reserve Education Assistance Program.

Wilson, who lives in Apopka, served five years as an intelligence analyst in the Army, including a tour in Iraq. When he returned home, he brought with him a newfound maturity that was instrumental in his success. He used skills he learned in the military to get an engineering job, but soon realized engineering wasn’t for him, and in 2011 he re-enrolled at Seminole State. He joined the Art & Phyllis Grindle Honors Institute and loaded his schedule with challenging classes, including the College’s STEM research program.

“Eric has a remarkable breadth of interests and talent in many diverse academic areas,” says Dr. Debra Socci, director of the Honors Institute. “He has a great work ethic, and he constantly demonstrates a can-do attitude, which has garnered him immeasurable respect among Seminole State faculty and students.”

Wilson plans to graduate from Seminole State in December with his Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree and then head to Rollins College or Stetson University to complete his undergraduate work. Even then, he won’t be finished.

“I definitely want to get my master’s and Ph.D.,” he says, “but you’re never done learning.”

An approved veterans training institution, Seminole State has nearly 1,000 student veterans. For more information, please visit the Veterans Affairs Office's website.

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