Student: David Sager
When doctoral student David Sager was commissioned into the Air Force this summer, the gravity of his duty and dedication to military service members, veterans and a life of service caused him to square his shoulders and lift his chin a bit higher.
Sager, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with the goal of helping treat active duty service members and veterans, is no stranger to military life. He served for five years as a Marine, including a deployment to Iraq, before being compelled to help others cope.
“This time around, I can feel the weightiness of it,” Sager said of his commissioning into the Air Force. “There’s added weight to the reason I’m going back into the military. There’s the extra responsibility not just with being an officer but taking care of the mental health needs of service members.”
During and after his service in the Marines, Sager witnessed the ways that active duty service and deployments affected service members emotionally and mentally, and he began considering how he could play a role in improving their quality of life.
His research into higher education showed that ECU had one of a handful of Ph.D. programs in clinical health psychology as well as world-renowned faculty like one of Sager’s most influential professors, Dr. Samuel Sears.
“The program here was the best fit for what I want to do,” Sager said.
The journey has proven to be serendipitous for him, with opportunities for growth, knowledge and perspective along the way. Sworn in as a reserve second lieutenant, Sager will go on active duty as a captain with the Air Force once he earns his graduate degree. His educational experience also has been enhanced by the Health Professions Scholarship Program, which Sager decided to pursue despite the daunting competition and rigorous application process.
The Air Force offers one- and two-year scholarships for allied health specialties (pharmacists, optometrists, clinical psychologists and public health officers). While on scholarship, students spend 45 days on active duty in the Air Force, and after graduation serve one year of active duty for each year of scholarship, or a minimum of three years.
Sager’s educational path was built on a foundation of military and life experience, and his familiarity with deployment and military life—his wife also served in the Marines—has narrowed his focus on the future. The decision to re-enter the military was embedded in a sense of purpose.
“This time, it’s been a much more deliberate and carefully considered decision,” he said.
His commissioning on campus this summer was also a more personal experience, with his family, ECU classmates, professors and Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences representatives joining Lt. Col. April Wimmer at Wright Fountain for an early morning ceremony. Wimmer explained the commissioning ceremony step by step, emphasizing Sager’s commitment to the Air Force and his fellow citizens.
“This is what I’ve been working so hard to get to,” Sager said. “My hope is that my experience in the military and my education here at ECU will help me make a positive difference in the lives of service members and veterans.”
College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Science
Major: Clinical Psychology Ph.D.
Classification/Year: Third year
Hometown: Rocky Mount, NC
Hobbies/interests: Reading, running, lifting, tabletop, miniature, and video gaming.
Clubs and Organizations: American Psychological Association – Division 19 (Military Psychology), Omicron Delta Kappa
Favorite hangout: The blogosphere
Favorite place on campus: The SRC
Favorite place to eat: Kitchen table
Professor who influenced you the most: Dr. Samuel Sears
Favorite TV show: “Seinfeld”
Favorite band/musician: Soilwork
Favorite movie: “Patton”
Dream job: Military Psychologist
The one thing you cannot live without: The written word
Role model: An amalgam of many
Your words to live by: Every experience is a learning opportunity
What advice do you have for other students?: Cultivate your curiosity.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year?: The sheer volume of student resources on campus.