Montana Tech junior serves country while earning degree



For junior Rylan Signalness, the decision to serve her country was an easy one.

“I enlisted before I graduated high school,” Signalness said. “I have service members in my family, and the Montana Air National Guard had a job opening for what I want to do in my future career.”

Signalness, a resident of Fairfield, serves as an E-3 Bioenvironmental Engineer. She has completed two years of a six-year commitment with the 120th Airlift Wing based out of Great Falls, Montana. Signalness says her service allows her to make a difference, helps pay for her education, and will help launch her post-graduate career.

Signalness’s experience started with basic training, seven weeks of intense exercise meant to hone recruits’ physical and mental strength. Much of this time is spent without any contact with the outside world.

“It’s so worth it,” Signalness said. “Basic training is not fun, and spending time away from your family is not fun, but what comes out of it is worth it tenfold. They want you to be comfortable in doing what you are doing by yourself. It goes by so fast. You wake up, and every minute of your day is scheduled. It sets you in a routine, but also requires you to push yourself way out of your comfort zone.”

The Montana Air National Guard requires members to spend one weekend per month training. Signalness usually leaves on Fridays after class, but occasionally she’s called away for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Guard members have to be ready to deploy at any time, however. In July 2023, she received notice that her unit was being sent to Monroe, Louisiana, for Individual Readiness Training. For two weeks, Signalness worked with her fellow service members to deliver medical care to low-income individuals in the community. By providing immunizations, dental care, checkups, prescriptions, and optometry services, recipients of the care were able to save more than $800,000.

Montana Tech has been extremely accommodating,” Signalness said. “I have not had an issue with any professors. They have always been super understanding. Leaving on six-month trips and coming back, I’ve never had an issue jumping right back in. Professors are willing to work with you when you get back.”

Signalness is on track to graduate early, despite her extended absences. That’s because she was able to work with her department to gain credit through her service experience. She brought with her 24 transfer credits from the Community College of the Air Force.

“It’s a lot of comparing the classes I need to take for Montana Tech versus what I have for serving with the Montana Air National Guard,” Signalness said.

There are also generous tuition benefits offered for National Guard members.

“It is so beneficial coming into my college career with experience in the field and no student loans when I get out,” Signalness said.

In addition to serving, Signalness is also a Prospector, a student ambassador for Montana Tech. Prospectors give tours and provide prospective students insight into campus life.

“As a student veteran, I wanted to appeal to those other students,” Signalness said. “I was not really shown that was an option at Montana Tech, so I really wanted to promote that.”

Signalness also has a part-time job teaching safety classes and serves as an ASSP club officer on campus.

She plans to be at Montana Tech a little longer to purse a master’s degree in industrial hygiene.

Once she graduates, she hopes to join the military as a commissioned officer.

“You gain a family,” Signalness said. “It’s a little support system. That’s the biggest part of the military, the bonds you make with the people you work next to.”

To learn about Veteran Services at Montana Tech, click here.

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