Veteran programs, evening and weekends, internships: Crystal Leatherman takes advantage of Evergreen opportunities

Crystal Leatherman and family

Crystal Leatherman sips her coffee. She’s on a break from her work as a legislative intern with the House of Representatives at the Capitol Building in downtown Olympia. So far today, she’s worked on constituent correspondence, bipartisan research; and her personal favorite, newsletters.

Someone walks by with a pug, and she stops to gush over him.

“I have a pug, his name is Bacon!” she laughs, “My husband brought him home as a deployment present to himself.”

Leatherman is here to tell the story of her journey to Evergreen – and she does so with an optimism that belies. Her mother passed away just as Leatherman finished high school; so she put her education on hold to work and look after her sisters. Just six weeks after giving birth to twins, she lost one of her sisters. Her husband’s work as an Army aviation mechanic meant endless moves and disruptions, plus the stress of deployment.

“Life got frustrating and hard, but I did not want to keep starting over. Each move meant a gap in my work history, I needed to set myself apart,” Leatherman says, “So I focused on earning my degree.”

Leatherman earned her associate’s degree. Soon after, her husband was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just 20 minutes from Evergreen.

“My husband is set to retire soon, and I knew if I wanted to be the breadwinner, I needed to stand out from the rest of the applicants, I needed my degree,” she says.   

With her military dependent benefits at the ready, Leatherman began researching local colleges. She checked out UW Tacoma, realized it wasn’t for her, and decided to tour Evergreen. She stopped by the Veterans Resource Center while on campus, and after meeting with director and retired Navy commander Randy Kelley, knew Evergreen was where she wanted to be.

“He gave so much clarity, and the best description of what to expect from the school. The way he described the programs, I realized this is definitely a school I wanted to go to. It sounded fascinating,” she says.

Interested in politics and communications, Leatherman was delighted to discover she could partake in programs that covered both, and then some. “I realized classes at Evergreen aren’t independent, they’re interdependent,” she says, “That was my ah-ha moment.”

She first enrolled in a day-time program, but then her childcare fell through. Leatherman was afraid she wouldn’t be able to finish.

She took her concerns to an advisor and was relieved when they recommended the college’s Evening and Weekend Studies (EWS). She discovered EWS’s flexible scheduling allowed her to adjust her childcare, and continue her love of learning.

“It was amazing to be able to benefit from taking a 12- or 16-credit course, but still have the schedule work for my family,” she says. “I could be there for my kids, take them to appointments and ballet, and most importantly, I could get them potty-trained,” she adds with a laugh.

Through advising, she also discovered Veteran’s Next Mission, a cornerstone program that helped her navigate her Evergreen education more thoroughly.

“Every student should take a cornerstone program at Evergreen, not just military, it gives you a great experience of what to expect at Evergreen—it’s not a traditional college, and these classes give you a foundation,” asserts Leatherman.

After Leatherman finishes up her legislative internship this spring, she’ll return to the EWS program to finish her degree, and plans to graduate in June. She’s also ready to apply for Evergreen’s Master of Public Administration program.

Leatherman’s happy to have her husband home and in retirement, so he can enjoy more time with the kids and the pug. And she’s excited for their next stage in life—because, soon, it’ll be her turn to bring home the bacon.