With 17 years in the U.S. military — both reserve and active duty — Kellin Hardin knows the challenges service members face.
After earning her psychology degree from Indiana University Kokomo in May, she’s ready to begin the next phase and earn her master’s and counsel veterans.
“When you talk to military members, it’s hard for them to relate to someone who hasn’t had those experiences,” said Hardin, who has been accepted into IU Kokomo’s mental health counseling graduate program. “There’s a whole subculture that goes with being in the military. Many of them would be more comfortable talking to someone who has been there, who understands the struggles.”
Mental health issues often get overlooked among service members, and she wants to make a difference.
“I’ve seen the struggles that go with military service. Unfortunately, we still have a way to go,” she said. “In earlier times, if you had any mental health issues, your career was pretty much over if you admitted you were struggling. There were a lot of people who never got the treatment they needed. I want to do something to help.”
Her plan is to do that work on a volunteer basis while continuing her active duty service and then potentially make a career of it after retiring from the Air Force.
She’s had a long journey to get where she is today, with 13 years from her first undergraduate class to graduation. During that time she’s served three deployments.
Hardin joined the U.S. Army Reserves after graduating from Maconaquah High School in 2003, with a plan to study culinary arts in Miami.
“I needed a way to pay for college, and the military is a family tradition,” she said, adding that her parents were in the Navy, her grandfather was in the Army, and she had uncles in the Marines and the Air Force.
When her culinary arts program didn’t work for her, Hardin returned to Indiana where she joined the Air Force Reserves and began working at Grissom Air Reserve Base. Hardin enrolled at IU Kokomo as a business major, with the idea of opening a catering business at some point, but found it wasn’t interesting to her.
After completing a career assessment on campus, she switched to psychology. Right from the start, she was in the right place.
Life was part-time college while working and serving in the reserves. Occasionally, Hardin took off a semester or two for deployments and other obligations.
In December 2019, she transitioned from reserves to active duty, which offers her the chance to retire earlier with better benefits for her family. It also allows her to attain higher rank. Hardin is currently a senior master sergeant, working in aviation resource management.
“I love what I do, because there is something new every day,” she said. “With active duty, I still have the same job and I still wear the uniform every day. It was a good opportunity for me.”
Because she’s been deployed recently, Hardin will not have to worry about being interrupted during her two years to complete her master’s. The program offers evening classes, which will allow her to continue to work.
Hardin is proud of the example she’s setting for her son, 11, and daughter, 9, about the importance of higher education.
“It’s exciting for me, because not very many in our family have even completed an undergraduate degree,” she said. “My mom graduated from college in her 40s, so the fact I could graduate and start a master’s program and have that before I’m 40, that’s an achievement.”