The Ohio State Office of Military and Veteran Services has selected Gretchen Klingler, a second-year in anthropology and Arabic, as the university’s first Military Student of the Year.
Klingler said she was surprised to have been selected for the award because of the all the contributions other student-veterans are making to the community both on and off campus.
“I felt like it was really humbling that there are so many people here at Ohio State, so many veterans that do amazing things, even things that aren’t involved on campus — there’s so many talented people,” she said. “I felt like I was really proud to be a part of something that was just an outstanding program here, and just an outstanding program for veterans.”
Mike Carrell, assistant provost and director of the Office of Military and Veterans Services, said Klingler was selected by her peers for her dedicated work with veterans on campus.
“Whatever it might be, from our orientations for new students to social events to academic support events, she’s at those events, she promotes those events, she encourages other students to go (and) she encourages other students to get involved,” Carrell said.
OSU announced the award last week, although Klingler technically received it at the annual Military Ball held in February.
A West Liberty, Ohio, native and U.S. Air Force veteran, Klingler joined the military in June 2009 and spent six years training and working as a tactical systems operator. During that time, she attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where she spent two years learning Iraqi Arabic.
During her time serving, Klingler was deployed to Afghanistan twice. After completing her time in the Air Force in June 2015, she came to OSU.
Klingler is the president of Vets 4 Vets, the Student Veterans of America chapter at OSU, and has nearly tripled the group’s membership in her first term, Carrell said. She also serves as the secretary of the Undergraduate Anthropology Club and has recently received a grant through the Global Mobility Project for her research in anthropology.
Klingler’s research involves working with immigrant Iraqi women in Ohio and California and studying their experiences as immigrants or refugees, as well as their experiences adjusting to life in the U.S.
Klingler said much of the inspiration for her research came from hearing her teachers’ stories in language school.
“After listening to my teacher’s stories, all of my teachers were Iraqi — they were all from Iraq — they were of different faiths (and) different ethnicities, and hearing them talk about their experiences, both the experiences they spoke so passionately about and one’s that they said they wish they could forget, it really spoke to me,” she said.
Once her research proposal was approved, Klingler began to teach a beginner’s English-as-a-second-language course for adults, specifically Iraqi immigrants and refugees, every Friday. Klingler said her experience with Iraqi Arabic helped her bond with her students.
“I went down there and I started talking to people and it amazed me how much I remembered, but it also amazed me how amused they were by me speaking their Arabic, not just the Modern Standard Arabic, which is the literary language,” she said. “They just thought that was the coolest thing, and it made me want to keep going back.”
Klingler is preparing for a monthlong trip to Malta — located in the Mediterranean Sea — this summer, where she will be attending the Expeditions Ethnographic Field School, and hopes to gain experience doing ethnographic interviews — interviews which involve talking to people on a deeper level and immersive observation.
She will also be completing a second research project in Malta, which will deal with refugees and the realities of immigration today.
Next fall, Klingler will be continuing her work with veterans on campus and starting her second term as president of Vets 4 Vets, but said she also hopes to present her research next year at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum and at least two conferences.
Klingler said a lot of what she’s doing today goes back to the influence of her teachers at the Defense Language Institute, and she hopes to bridge the major culture gaps of today through her research.
“It pushed me to where I am today, because I learned more. And now I want to help other people learn more, whether that’s people from the Middle East learning about American culture and about English, or whether it’s people from the United States who only know English, learning about Middle Eastern culture or about Arabic,” she said. “I just think that learning to understand each other’s cultures is so important right now, and it’s really why I do what I do.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Gretchen Klingler as “Gretchen Klinger” and that she left the Air Force in 2014 when in fact she left in 2015.