Devon Waldroff of Kingsport wrote the bill last fall while participating in the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL). The new law permits students serving in the military who are called to active duty the option to withdraw, even if the deadline has passed, or to receive a grade of incomplete, that will not affect the student’s eligibility to receive financial aid, scholarships and grants in the future.
“Due to incentives issued by the state government, like the STRONG Act, I know that more and more National Guard and reservists in the area are going to come back to school and I don’t want them to have to worry about their obligations while also being able to get their education,” said Waldroff, a biology major and Spanish minor.
Waldroff is a senator in ETSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) and said he began thinking about the need for legislation as he balanced long weekends of military drills with course work requirements. He was a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Armored Calvary Regiment until last February.
“ETSU has a tremendous military-friendly reputation, but I began thinking, what about schools in the state that aren’t as military-friendly? What if they weren’t so easy for military students to work with?”
When Waldroff took his concerns to the SGA, he discovered his idea for legislation to protect military personnel was outside the scope of the university’s student government body, so he decided to take action on the state level.
Waldroff collaborated with fellow soldiers and SGA members to craft the legislation. SGA President Keyana Miller suggested the portion of the new law that protects students from losing scholarship eligibility if they have to withdraw or take an incomplete due to military service obligations.
The bill made its way through the TISL General Assembly and fellow ETSU student Bradley Greer presented the bill to the TISL house and committee. Due to the high volume of student-written bills submitted, Waldroff said he had to convince the speaker to move his legislation forward at the end of the last day.
“It was signed by the TISL governor and I was told that when that happens, the bill typically gets put before the actual legislative body, but I didn’t want to leave it up to chance,” Waldroff said.
To ensure the bill would be seen by actual state legislators, Waldroff sought the support of Senator John Lundberg, (R-Bristol).
“He was very excited about it and began collecting sponsors. He put it through committee and I’ve been watching it closely since then,” Waldroff said.
SB1925, sponsored by Lundberg, passed the senate unanimously on March 26 and was signed into law by Governor Haslam on April 9. Waldroff said he’s always had an interest in the political process, but his sights are set on attending medical school. Nevertheless, he plans to push for the same protections at the federal level for military personnel pursuing higher education degrees.
“Being part of SGA is what gave me the confidence and the tools to write the legislation and believe that I could use the opportunity to elicit real change,” he added.