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Guarding Health: A Path to Integrated Wellness

Sheila McNeil

Sheila McNeil has passionately served and protected her country for over 20 years as a member of the Army National Guard stationed at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. At age 56, with an eye toward retirement next year, she is ready for the next career challenge.

Earning a Master of Arts Degree in Integrative Health from Georgian Court University has helped her solidify a lifelong interest in holistic healing and chart a clear pathway for the future. “When I was in high school, I started sprouting – growing seeds packed with nutrition, and brewing my own Kombucha – a tonic filled with vitamins and minerals that has health benefits. I dabbled with holistic health intuitively — I didn’t even know there was a name for it back then,” said McNeil.

As the years progressed, she completed certificates in Forest Bathing, Sound Healing, and Yoga, but it was her training to become a Reiki Master (III) that led her to Georgian Court. “During my Reiki training I met others who would tell me about the amazing program at Georgian Court run by Dr. Sachiko Komagata, I met with her and that was it.” She added, “The universe had been giving me hints my entire life and I finally listened. I realized this was what I was meant to do.”

McNeil’s dream is to start a wellness business, and her education and experiences at Georgian Court have given her direction. “The curriculum is fantastic, and the professors were always spot on.  The program is well-balanced and introduces you to so many different modalities you might not even know exist. It just opens up the whole world.”

In addition to academic studies, McNeil also participated in the university’s annual Health Expo and this year gave a presentation on a study she conducted on “Mindful Munching” which looked at improving people’s relationships with food to lessen stress and improve health and well-being.  “The six-week study encouraged people to make better food choices. Several participants are still eating more fruits and vegetables, so it seems to be making lasting change,” she explained.

Georgian Court was one of the first universities in the nation to offer a graduate holistic health degree (now called integrative health) and the first to deliver a program of this kind 100% online.

As an active military member, the ability to participate in the graduate degree program online was a game changer. “I was deployed to Kuwait in 2020-2021 and took two classes online. Then I had to take a year off but was able to easily resume my studies in the fall of 2022.” She added, “The faculty is incredibly supportive, and the university is very military friendly which makes a big difference.”

Her commitment to the military and desire to support others led her to become President of the Student Veterans of America – GCU chapter on campus.  She revitalized the chapter and worked with Dr. Joshua Burns, Director of Military & Veteran Services and Outreach, to set up a new Veteran’s Lounge on campus and explore new programs and activities for active military, veterans and their families.

Surprisingly, McNeil didn’t join the National Guard until she was 35.  She was running a successful landscaping business and owned a retired military dump truck that she brought to veteran’s events as part of a collector’s club.  In June 2001, her life changed when she attended the Reading World War II Weekend.

“I had a chance to speak with (Virginia) Scotty Gough, a Women’s Air Service Pilot, she was the first WWII veteran I had met who was female. She was an incredible human being and that is when I started thinking about being a part of the military.  After I talked to her, I started talking to my recruiter friend. Then September 11th happened — that sealed it for me,” said McNeil.

She has served since 2002, first as a non-commissioned officer climbing to the rank of Seargent First Class, then transitioning to Warrant Officer for the past six years. She has done tours in Iraq, Kosovo and Kuwait.

As one chapter ends and another begins, McNeil encourages other military, and non-military students to consider pursuing degrees at Georgian Court.

“I love Georgian Court, I really do,” she said. “If anyone is looking for a place to study, the support they will get is fantastic, and the low teacher-student ratio is also wonderful; you really are a person not just a number. The education is exceptional. I am going to miss it…but I will be back!”

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About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.