Former Marine turned viticulturist Kenzi Schultz finds a community at Mizzou

Military service shaped Schultz’s academic future, and she wants other veterans to know that the transition to college is possible.

Kenzi Schultz serving as a crash fire rescue Marine in Japan before her honorable discharge from the service.
Kenzi Schultz served as a crash fire rescue Marine in Japan before her honorable discharge from the service. Photo courtesy of Kenzi Schultz.

Kenzi Schultz grew up in a military and law enforcement family in Cordelia, California, and knew in middle school that she would one day follow in her family’s footsteps. Her great grandfather served in the Army during World War II and the Korean War, her father was a police officer and Army veteran, her brother joined the Air Force, her uncle was in the Navy, and when she enlisted her junior year of high school, Schultz became her family’s first Marine.

Schultz went to bootcamp after graduating high school, and then spent time in Japan, Guam, and San Diego, California, as a crash fire rescue Marine, serving as a fire fighter and medic for flight lines. After eight years of service, she was honorably discharged.

“I think it benefitted me in the ways that I wanted it to, with the education and life experience I got while I was in, but it wasn’t something I wanted to retire out of like I’d originally thought,” said Schultz. “I never thought of myself as a college student when I was younger, but after getting out of the Marines I realized how much academia matters and how much you can use it in life.”

Kenzi Schultz, right, enlisted in the Marines during her junior year of high school.
Kenzi Schultz, right, enlisted in the Marines during her junior year of high school. Photo courtesy of Kenzi Schultz.

She grew up driving through the Napa Valley vineyards near her hometown in the bay area of California and found the scenery very peaceful. After military life, Schultz was ready to do something calm and peaceful, and her mind went to the viticulture she’d see in her childhood.

“I think working with plants and working with my hands and being out in nature is just a really therapeutic thing for me,” Schultz said.

After her time in the Marines, Schultz took community college classes and received a viticulture certificate while managing a tasting room in the Sonoma Valley. In early 2020, she moved to Missouri to get away from the California wildfires. Schultz’s family had moved to a century farm in Hallsville, Missouri, just a year before, and she was glad to get to spend time with her younger siblings she didn’t get to see while she was serving.

Posing in firefighter gear in front of the sunset.
Photo by Kenzi Schultz.

After moving, Schultz decided to continue her education as an agriculture major at Mizzou, where the Veterans Center helped aid her transition into full-time student life and gave her a community of people with shared experience. Schultz also worked at the Veterans Center part time for several semesters.

“It is great to be able to connect with those other veterans, because it gives a sense of community a lot of us miss when we get out of the military,” said Schultz. “Mizzou has a lot of great resources for veterans that I think go underused. They’ve got everything veterans need to transition.”

Working in a vineyard
Photo courtesy of Kenzi Schultz.

Schultz also works part time at the Veterans Urban Farm in Columbia, which helps veterans with both food security and hands-on therapy work. Veterans from the Truman VA are regularly taken to the urban farm as part of their physical or mental health treatment or are given jobs there to help them adjust and get back on their feet in civilian life.

“It helps a lot of people, especially veterans, to just be there and be present and get out of your head,” she said.

Schultz did acknowledge that the transition back into school was difficult, especially being around younger traditional students, but credits the skills her time in the military taught her to her success.

“I think my time-management skills, the discipline to get things done and care about the work you put in and where it can get you in life came from my time in the military. They taught me how to be committed to myself.”

She also praised the CAFNR faculty and staff for their focus on her as an individual and their investment in her success.

In firefighter gear
Photo courtesy of Kenzi Schultz.

After graduation in December, Schultz hopes to work with University of Missouri Extension or the United States Department of Agriculture and may go back for a master’s degree after a few years in industry.

Schultz is passionate about encouraging other veterans in their non-traditional student journey.

“The transitional period might seem daunting, because military experience molds you into something you don’t see a lot in the civilian world,” Schultz said. “But don’t be afraid; just go for it and reach out for help when you need it. There are so many resources for both mental health and student-related struggles, and those people want you to succeed and are willing to help you get there.”