Like most veterans post-service, Peter Cline found himself struggling as he tried to navigate the college admissions process after the Army. Though he had taken classes while serving through American Military University, he found there to be a huge disconnect between the transition program offered by the military and the actual admissions process as a civilian.
Motivated by his own struggles, Cline founded Boots to Books with the help of a fellow classmate and focused on helping service members make the transition from soldiers to students. Supported by volunteers who have already survived college, the organization runs a mentor program to assist applicants in the admissions process as well as career planning.
“I got out of the Army as an infantryman in December 2020,” Cline said. “Leading up to that, I’d done all these competitions, including the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Competition — which is really like like a super overhyped manager of the year competition — but all of that to say, we were all told that those kinds of things would help us get whatever job we wanted post-military.”
“It’s such a fallacy to think that’s the case, or that getting into college is a breeze post-service,” Cline continued. “It really wasn’t. I did basically all the things we tell transitioning service members not to do, first and foremost using blanket resumes. I wasn’t backwards planning off of job descriptions … Eventually I realized that I was going to have zero success like this and I needed to reach out to someone for help.”
Cline reached out to a friend, Aubrey Sine, who ended up becoming the co-founder of Boots to Books. “[Sine] would meet with me every week,” Cline said. “Whether it was just looking at my resume and asking questions about all the military acronyms or reviewing my college applications for me. We worked together to re-word and find better ways to convey the impact of my experience, and it resulted in a few things, the first being that I earned an academic scholarship to Chapman University, and secondarily, I’ve gotten into a really awesome career.”
The other side of Cline and Sine working together was the realization that personalized and accessible help toward competitive education and employment just didn’t exist for the military community. In December 2020, Boots to Books was founded. Initially, the focus of the organization was on higher education, offering test preparation for the LSAT, GRE, or GMAT completely for free, covering textbooks or education resources that exceeded GI Bill limits, and application reviews (plus covering application fees when the schools wouldn’t waive them).
This was Boots to Books’ operating model until March 2021, when it received its 501(c)(3) status and started bringing in donations from foundations in the Bay Area, where Cline and Sine are based.
“We realized then that our end goal for everyone we’re helping was really employment,” Cline explained. “Higher education is great, but it’s a stepping stone in that journey. So now, our programming is structured a bit differently. Each month, we host an event that’s catered towards the soft skills of the hiring process, and then we’ll hold a recruiter roundtable with companies like Oracle. We’ve hosted career days where our recently transitioned service members will come on and share honestly what they do in their company roles day to day. We host live resume reviews, interview prep, and assistance with hard skills and certifications.”
Along with all of those career support services, the organization still has a focus on higher education. With a well-developed network of counselors among various schools, they’re able to help service members and military spouses determine what kind of degree plan to focus on and whether there are also professional certifications like Lean Six Sigma and CompTIA that are a good fit — these certifications are also offered completely free. Currently, there are 13 veterans and three military spouses Boots to Books is helping work through their CompTIA and Lean Six Sigma certifications, and they’re being provided with more than $40,000 in training free of charge so far.
Boots to Books also hosts virtual hiring fairs run through a platform that imitates an in-person fair — each company has its own “booth,” there are live keynotes, and attendees are able to live-chat with recruiters from the companies. These hiring fairs are limited access, open only to veterans, military spouses, and transitioning military members. Currently, they’re held about twice a year, with companies in attendance including Accenture, Amazon, and Oracle. More and more, companies are reaching out to Cline to participate, instead of the other way around, and Boots to Books has most recently added recruiters from Adobe and Accenture Federal.
“Our goal is to take away the barriers from hiring,” Cline said. “The demand to attend and hire has been insane. At our last fair, Accenture extended 20 job offers for a software development apprenticeship. Between the fairs each month, we’re in contact with the recruiters who are looking to hire from the military community, so we send out newsletters, gather interest, and help them tailor their resumes, then give them a personal introduction to the company. This allows the veterans to skip the initial screening process and talk to someone who actually understands what they bring to the table.”
Photo courtesy of Peter Cline.
Since the organization’s inception, Cline and his team have helped more than 2,500 veterans and military spouses, with veterans now getting hired at Amazon, Oracle, Accenture, and more. To add to their expanding network, they recently partnered with the US Army Reserve. Though Boots to Books is based in Southern California, the service population is a mix of East Coast, Texas, and California residents, which Cline attributes to social media marketing and word-of-mouth outreach. Thanks to a $5,000 donation from the BRCC Fund, Cline will have funding for a new program he hopes to roll out in the upcoming months.
“Our goal is to make the transition process as easy as possible. We want to help with every facet of that,” Cline said. “The reason why this works and has continued to work is that we have amazing volunteers. The support we’ve gotten is just incredible. We’ve really become a conduit of resources, people connecting to other people. It’s been a community rally, and that’s what’s made it work.”