Meet Jake Fischer, Sierra College Grad on His Way to Yale

Jake Fischer, veteran Army sergeant, political science major and Sierra College graduate

Meet Jake Fischer, veteran Army sergeant, political science major and Sierra College graduate. He believes in honesty, integrity and encouraging people to do their best. We were able to interview Jake the day before he left for Yale!

When are you leaving for Connecticut?
Tomorrow, actually. I’m packing later tonight and taking two bags of luggage.
Have you visited Yale’s campus yet?
Not yet. I found out I got into Yale while I was taking my history final this past spring. I had until June first to decide between Yale or Berkeley. I only had a couple of weeks, and it would have been expensive to fly to Connecticut and back, so I decided to go to Yale.
What was your major while you were at Sierra?
My major was political science. I graduated high school in 2010, and afterward, I went to a school in Oregon for one semester. I played football there, but I just didn’t like the school, so I transferred back to Sierra College.
I went to Sierra from January 2011 until summer term of 2012. Then I joined the Army. I was all over, just taking general education at that point. Once I returned to Sierra after the Army, I focused on political science and finished my degree last semester [Spring 2017].
What are you going to study at Yale?
Global Affairs, but I have to apply to the major.
How is Global Affairs different from Political Science?
Global Affairs is focused more externally on the United States and its role with other countries, international organizations and NGOs [non-governmental organizations], things of that nature.
What kind of job do you hope to get with your degree?
I’m not certain. Policy is something that interests me. I just finished an internship with Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, which was great.
I’m also considering looking for a job with the FBI, maybe something like counter terrorism. I’d like to find something similar to the military.
What did you do while you were in the military?
I was a medic. For the first half of my career, I was a platoon medic for the airborne infantry. Later, I had the opportunity to deploy as a member of a forward surgical team in Afghanistan.
The goal of a forward surgical team is to prolong the golden hour. The golden hour is the first hour after injury, where if patients don’t get treatment, their chances of survival go down drastically. So when missions are two hours away from the nearest base, the Army will place a forward surgical team nearby.
We can extend the golden hour by getting patients into surgery earlier and patching them up well enough to last until they get to the hospital. Our team set up a makeshift operating room in an old building on a base near where missions were being conducted so that if somebody got shot, we could patch them up quickly and then send them to the real hospital.
Wow. You must have a strong stomach!
Luckily, I didn’t work on people I knew well, which might have made it harder. I thought of my job mechanically and in terms of problem-solving. I would think, "This is the issue, so the solution is to do this,” rather than coming from an emotional standpoint. It’s almost like working on a car with a time limit. It sounds cold, but the more emotional you get, the less of a chance the patient has to live.
It’s something I think people can build up to. There was someone in my medic training class who passed out when we first practiced IVs, but she went on to become a flight medic. By the end of the training, she was completely fine with it.
What’s it like being a veteran and a student at Sierra College?
I know they have a lot of great resources at the Vet Center, but I didn’t utilize them as much as I could have. I was saving my GI bill for Yale and grad school.
I did utilize the priority registration, which was a big help, especially while trying to get done within one year. If I couldn’t get into a certain class, I would have had to wait until the next semester, so that was very helpful. My experience was just all positive.
Did you do any extracurriculars while you were here?
Before I joined the Army, I wrote sports stories for the Sierra Independent Press, and I was fairly active. It was run by Professor Kent Pollock. I took his journalism class, and that got me interested in writing.
I completed an internship in the governor’s office during the Fall 2016 semester, and then this summer I interned at Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s office. For my internship with the governor, I worked in constituent affairs. If people had issues getting state agencies to deal with a specific case, they would write in or call. Then, we would talk to them and see if we could get them in contact with someone who would help them through all the red tape.
This summer I worked at Assemblyman Ken Kiley’s office. There was also casework with constituents there, but not as much because it’s just one assembly district versus the whole state. There was a little bit of speech writing. The other interns and I would put legislation into different categories so that when people wrote in, we could direct them to similar legislation that they would probably want to know about.
What advice would you give to yourself three years ago if you could go back in time?
Three years ago, I was on the edge of staying in the military or getting out. I would say to myself, “Take the risk and get out.” I enjoyed my job in the Army, and I was comfortable with it. But I definitely have a lot more options now since I’ve gone back to school. I can always go back to the Army if that ends up being what I want. So I would tell myself to trust myself in getting out.
What are your most important values?
Honesty, integrity, and encouraging people. A lot of people, if you tell them you want to do something that they think is challenging, then they’ll just tell you that you can’t do it.
Every time I’ve taken on something that was challenging, there are always people telling me “Why are you wasting your time? You can’t do that.” But there are also people telling me, “Yeah, I think you can do it! That’s great!”
I usually try to be one of the people that are encouraging others, because it’s hard enough to do challenging things without people being negative. If you can be one of the positive influences in someone’s life, I think that’s important.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever accomplished?
Graduating from Ranger School, which is a leadership school in the Army, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They use small-unit tactics to test and train you. The missions go as horribly wrong as they can.
The school also withholds food and sleep to add to the stress, so you’re trying to patrol through the woods or swamps with 30 men who may or may not be sleepwalking.
I was in the best shape of my life, and I still lost 35 pounds. You get one to three hours of sleep per night, so it’s a struggle to stay awake. You’ll be in the middle of a mission, and if you make a mistake, the instructors will say, “That person got shot, and that person got shot.” You have to figure out how you’re going to deal with it.
There’s a saying that “You don’t earn your Ranger Tab, your Ranger Buddies do,” and it is completely true. You have to rely on others in your platoon constantly when you’re being graded. Then when you’re not graded, you have to do everything right or risk your buddy’s grade.
It was a really rewarding experience. I felt a lot more confident about myself as a leader and being able to deal with stressful situations.
Does everyone have to go through that training?
No. Certain special operations units have to, but not my unit. I volunteered for it because a lot of the leaders that I admire had gone through it and I wanted to emulate them.
After that, Sierra College was probably a piece of cake!
I do think that Ranger School helped me a lot with my discipline and getting work done. I might feel a little short on sleep while studying or in class, but it taught me to be able to focus my mind and not worry about things like sleep or being stressed out as much.
The leadership training was intense, but it was the most valuable school I’ve ever been to in the military. Shortly after I went to that school, I was promoted to sergeant, so I started leading soldiers. There were constantly lessons from Ranger School that I put into place.
What was it like being a sergeant and in charge of a lot of people?
It’s definitely pretty stressful because you are responsible for everything that your soldiers do, good and bad. It’s easier on deployment because they can’t get in as much trouble, but when you’re back home if your soldier does something wrong, then it’s your fault. You’ll get in trouble for it.
There’s an all-encompassing responsibility that you are supposed to have. And I think it’s a good thing, because once you are deployed, then you have to be like that constantly.
It teaches you to take responsibility, especially when you are mentoring your soldiers. You have to counsel your soldiers monthly and go over what they’ve done versus what you want them to do in the future. I really enjoyed figuring out what their long-term goals were and then helping them work toward them.
Our new tag line is “Find Your Amazing.” What’s the amazing thing you found at Sierra?
There’s a lot of amazing professors in the Political Science Department. I really enjoyed all the classes I had. I had four different professors: Syreeta Harada, Michael Deaver, Winsome Jackson and Tamir Sukkary. They all challenged me and made me think in different ways.
I also took the Career Planning personal development class [PDEV 0006] with Professor Econome. You learn a lot about yourself and do research on different professions. We also took personality tests. I think that class was really valuable. It’s a class people can overlook, but it is valuable for getting a bigger picture, understanding yourself, and how to apply yourself in the best way.
What’s your favorite thing about the people of Sierra?
I think the people at Sierra are mostly open to discussions. You hear that a lot of people in the military are hesitant to go to college because they can see it as a hostile environment for veterans, but I didn’t encounter that. Everyone at Sierra was pretty open minded.
What’s your best Sierra memory?
Taking my fall semester finals is my best memory. Every single class I had was on the edge between a B and an A, and I ended up getting a 4.0. Going into finals though, I had to get an A in every test to get an A in my classes.
I spent a lot of time studying and not a lot of time sleeping those last weeks. Once I was finally done, and I got my grades back and saw I came through, I was pretty excited. That’s my top memory. That was my first time back in school for quite a while, so it was reassuring that I could come back and succeed.
Let’s end with a fun question: If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it? Besides paying for Yale:)
It would be something boring. I’d probably just give half of it away and then the other half I’d invest. I’d give to Wounded Warriors or another veterans organization; I’d probably divvy it up to a few places. I’d take the rest and keep it as a safety net rather than spend it on something expensive.

Thanks Jake. We wish you a lot of success at Yale!