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George Leece: Alumnus

Degree Program: Electrical Engineering, B.S.

Undergraduate Institution: UC Santa Cruz

Department: Electrical Engineering

Hometown: Chico, CA

“[Being in the Army] definitely was an experience that opened my eyes to a lot of different opportunities and experiences that you can’t find anywhere else, I would say. In addition to that, finishing my time there, I was able to go back to UC Santa Cruz, to finish something that I had wanted to do.”

George Leece graduated from UC Santa Cruz in the spring of 2020. During his time at UCSC, he was a part of the Veterans Service Office, providing veterans and their families with support. He currently works at Western Digital as an equipment engineer, starting only a month after graduating. He enjoys spending time with his family— he has a wife and daughter who’s almost three years old, and a son on the way!

Why did you choose UC Santa Cruz?

I had been to Santa Cruz before, and growing up I had been to the Boardwalk, to the beaches, and I had just loved the climate, the area, the people. I’m from Chico, so it reminded me a lot of a small town vibe. It really clicked with me, the city itself. Friends were also part of the reason I went to UC Santa Cruz. 

You joined UC Santa Cruz after your time in the U.S. Army, is that correct?

Actually, I joined UC Santa Cruz right out of high school. I attended in 2011 to 2012. As a freshman, I had a typical college experience my first year. I went to the Army after that and I did four years in the Army. I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and I was trained as a medic. I had a lot of interesting opportunities and experiences in the Army. I got to jump out of airplanes, I got to travel to different parts of the world, places I never would have thought I would go to, I got to meet people all across the United States and all around the world. It definitely was an experience that opened my eyes to a lot of different opportunities and experiences that you can’t find anywhere else, I would say. In addition to that, finishing my time there, I was able to go back to UC Santa Cruz, where I chose to finish up in electrical engineering. I returned to school in 2017 and finished in 2020. 

When you attended Santa Cruz in 2011, did you already know that you wanted to join the Army, or did something inspire you?

When I was in high school, it was always something that was on my mind. I wanted to go to college as well, but I wasn’t sure which I wanted to do first, so I went to college for a year and it was expensive. That was also part of the reason  I chose to put college on hold, especially since I would get my GI Bill and [the military] would pay for school. It really worked out in the long term. I was able to graduate for free, which is rare these days, especially attending a university. I was also able to have a lot of experience before returning to college, which definitely gave me a different purpose in school. 

While you were at UC Santa Cruz, you were involved with the Veterans Service Office, is that correct?

Yes, so I went back to school and started working at the Veterans Service Office for work study, which was part of the GI Bill program. From there, I ended up working as one of the Veterans Service Benefits Outreach Representatives, interacting with the veteran community a lot more, being more involved in events, and reaching out to veterans. I had office hours every week up in Felton and Boulder Creek before the pandemic. It was definitely a nice way to be more in touch with the veteran community.

What kind of services does the Veterans Service Office offer?

The Veterans Service Office is like a liaison for the veterans, between the VA and the veterans themselves, or even the dependents of veterans. Students whose parents were veterans would come in, and we’d help them with applying for the CalVet fee waiver in order to get their tuition and fees waived at the University or at Cabrillo. Widows would also come in and we would help them. We would connect veterans and their families with local resources like Vets for Vets, we would help them find specific resources like helping them move or finding them a new bed, connecting them to housing, food, etc. Any variety of service we could help them with, we would try our best to do. 

You said that you’re now working as an engineer. What kind of work are you doing?

I started at Western Digital in their Launch program, which is specifically for recent college graduates. I landed a position as an engineer, where I work with hardware and do a lot of controls engineering with the machines that we’re working on. I work on designing new tools, improving the existing tools that we have, or helping with preparing and maintaining the current tools that we have. It’s definitely been an experience that school both did and did not help me prepare for. You can only learn so much in university, but I think that school prepared me for the ability to learn on my feet and learn quickly.

What is your advice to other veterans wanting to go back to school?

I would say do it. You’ve earned it, you have your GI Bill. You’ve earned the right to go back to school. It’s a benefit that’s there to help improve you, improve your life, improve your family. You sacrificed a part of your life, and this is something they give you in return, so don’t waste it. Don’t be afraid to do what you want to do with it. Study what you want, and find what makes you happy when you go back to school. 

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