Staff Sergeant Rachael Wehrenberg is an Aerospace Medical Technician assigned to the 109th Medical Group at the 109th Airlift Wing, Stratton Air National Guard Base, Scotia, NY. Rachael grew up in Clifton Park and graduated from Catholic Central High School in 2013. SSgt Wehrenberg enlisted in the military in August of 2015 and received her National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician (NREMT) in June 2016. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in May 2019 from Russell Sage College. Currently, she is in her second year of Russell Sage’s Occupational Therapy Master’s Program. She attended Airman Leadership School in June 2019, in-residence at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and is motivated to complete her education to become an Occupational Therapist while continuing to serve her country as a member of the New York Air National Guard.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Rachael in Alumnae House. Here is some of what she told us.
Q. How has your Military experience informed who you are today?
A. I think the military has shaped me into who I am in many different ways. It has given me a sense of belonging and pride, my base has become a second family for me. I’ve never met so many genuinely good people and I’m very fortunate to be at the 109th Airlift Wing. I have always appreciated veterans, but after being a part of something so much bigger than myself, I have such a deeper appreciation for those that has given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I also think the military has given me more confidence in myself and I probably speak up more than I did before. I also think it’s made me adapt and transition to new situations and environments quickly. It has definitely gotten me out of my comfort zone more than once.
Q. When and how did you discover you wanted to major in the OT program?
A. I think it was my junior year in high school, I originally wanted to go into teaching and one of my teachers had actually told me to reconsider that because of the economy. Not that money is everything, but I didn’t want to go to school having to take out student loans and unable to find a job when I graduated. Then one of my mom’s friends told me to look into occupational therapy. I had done some research online and I remembered visiting my Grandma after she had a stroke in Sunnyview when I was a kid. I saw the work they did with her so I had an idea of what occupational therapy was. That memory and the research I did helped me decide that was what I wanted to do. I knew Sage was the only college in the area with an OT program, so to save money I went to Hudson Valley Community College then transferred into Sage’s 3+2 Interdisciplinary Studies leading into Occupational Therapy program.
Q. What was a class class that challenged you?
A. I’d say my most challenging class was Neuroscience. Learning about all of the different neurological diagnosis was very interesting, but challenging to understand the physiology of what is happening in the body and more specifically the brain and how it impairs your functions and occupations.
Q. How do you balance the competing time demands of work, home, family, relationships?
A. Planning ahead I’d say is the best thing. I have a set schedule at work so that makes balancing my course load easier. It can be challenging to balance my social relationships when I have to say no to some social events, but my family and friends are understanding. Balance is key, I make sure I do things for myself to relax when I’m feeling stressed.
Q. What are you passionate about? What gets you up in the morning?
A. I’m passionate about helping others. I know I am just one person and may have a small impact, but by pursuing a career in occupational therapy if I can be that one person in someone’s day to make them smile and make a small difference in their life I know I’ll be able to go home with a smile on my face at the end of the day. This has been a goal of mine for about eight years now, so I think the fact that I’m getting so close gets me out of bed every day and it’s almost something internal that tells me, this is what I have to do in order to reach my goals and it will be worth it one day.
Q. What advice would you give to someone considering the military?
A. I’d encourage them to do their research, look at all the branches to find the best fit for them. It’s not for everyone, but I can honestly say it has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, make connections and some of the best friendships, not only just at my base, but I have friends all over the world now.
It was a privilege to interview Rachael and we were so pleased to hear how much she credits Sage for her education and accomplishments. She shared with us how her Sage professors had been both supportive and accommodating to work with her around her military service, making it easier to navigate competing time demands. In this year of graduate course work she looks forward to clinicals that will provide her experience and help her to hone in on the population where she wants to use her occupational therapy skills. Rachael will be doing her rotations at Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts and the Veteran Affairs Hospital.
We are proud to announce that Staff Sergeant Rachael Wehrenberg was recently awarded the Vartigian Liberty Scholarship funded by the Tri-County Council Vietnam Era Veterans. It is a well-deserved accomplishment. We know that Rachael will continue to carry on the proud Russell Sage tradition of being a Woman of Influence in her life, her career, and in her military service.