Public Relations and Marketing Communications
By Rebecca Rakoczy
COVINGTON, GA—Chris Colmenero fought in Iraq as a U.S. Marine. He’s raced motorcycles in the desert and has run an 18-person motorcycle repair business in Anchorage, Alaska.
But his most daunting challenge? Going to college at age 35.
“It was nerve-wracking—I hadn’t been in school for so long, ” the Perimeter College student said.
Colmenero is a first-generation college student and hopes one day to become a mechanical engineer.
He’s one of more than 2,730 veterans and military-affiliated students at Georgia State who are served through the university’s six Military Outreach Centers.
There was no one in his family who went to college, so he didn’t quite know what to expect, Colmenero said.
“I grew up outside of the tiny town of Tulelake, Calif., population 300; it’s the horseradish capital of the world,” he said, laughing. “There’s a huge sense of patriotism in our town, and so when 9/11 happened, a lot of us joined the military.”
Colmenero noted that out of 50 students in his high school graduating class, 10 enlisted in the armed forces. He was one of them, joining the Marines in 2005. He followed in the footsteps of his brother, who joined in 2004.
Colmenero served as a U.S. Marine in Karmah, Iraq, fighting during U.S. troop surge in 2007, and meritoriously rising to the rank of corporal before he turned 21 years old.
After being honorably discharged in 2009, he operated a motorcycle repair business in Anchorage.
Although he was a successful and accomplished mechanic, he knew there was more he could do.
“One of my customers pushed me to go to college to become a mechanical engineer,” Colmenero said.
He decided to follow that advice.
In 2021, Colmenero moved with his wife to Covington, Ga., to be closer to her sister’s family after the couple had their first child. He then started looking for colleges nearby and discovered Perimeter’s Newton Campus.
After was accepted, he contacted John Douglas, the Military Outreach Advocate at the Newton Campus. The office provides assistance to all military and military-affiliated students on the campuses.
“John was always there to answer my emails and questions about the school, as well as help me with my VA benefits,” Colmenero said.
Starting college later in life has been busy, but the adjustments have not been as hard as he anticipated, Colmenero said. He is currently carrying 16 credit hours, with one class on the Dunwoody Campus.
“It’s easy to get around, and I like the mixture of people here—everybody is pretty friendly,” he said.
Colmenero notes that as the first in his family to go to college, he has high aspirations.
“My parents did not graduate from high school, and I’m the first kid to graduate from high school in my family. (His brother received a GED.)
“I want to set the bar high for my daughter.”
Colmenero was recently named Student of the Month for November and will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the veterans’ organization, VetBuds.