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SC Veteran Success: Army reservist graduates college debt-free

January 19, 2021


COLUMBIA, S.C. - Keala Burks graduated with zero debt in December of 2020 from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management. She credits her achievement to benefits she received from the VA. Prior to attending the University of South Carolina, she also served active duty in the United States Army for ten years.

Keala Burks was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but grew up in the south while her father served as an Army Soldier. Once Keala decided to go to school, she re-enlisted in the United States Army Reserves where she is still currently serving. In January of 2021, she was promoted to Sergeant First Class, a senior non-commissioned officer in the military. During her time at the University of South Carolina, Keala received the South Carolina Governor’s Tourism Student Award for 2019.  She also volunteered to run a coat drive for the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sports Management where they raised money and collected coats that were donated through Christ Church Ministries.  

While attending college Keala utilized her Veterans benefits such as the Post 9/11-Chapter 33 GI Bill. The VA made sure her tuition was covered. Her mortgage and other bills were paid while Burks was in school as well. Keala says, “I am truly thankful for Veterans’ Affairs and all that it does for its veterans. Being able to complete my undergrad and move on to grad school debt free, along with the other benefits, is only something many can ask for. I look ahead to the future knowing that I will be successful due in part to the many benefits and networking opportunities provided by the VA.”


Burks currently attends the Graduate School at the University of South Carolina and her major is in International Hospitality and Tourism Management. In addition, she completed undergraduate classes Summa Cum Laude and served as president of the Eta Sigma Delta, a student organization for honors students with a GPA of 3.50 and higher. She is also a member of the Student Veterans Association as well as the Restaurant and Lodging Association. Although her career goals are not quite set, Keala is interested in working in the tourism industry or with the military.


To learn more about the GI Bill or free tuition assistance through the VA, click HERE.