A Christmas photograph taken with President Obama, “Gucci” tanker boots and a clay pot found in a forest in Okinawa, Japan – these are some of the things military-affiliated students have carried with them to Montclair State University.
With a flag raising on Monday, November 7 followed by a luncheon where those artifacts were displayed, the campus launched a weeklong recognition of the contributions and sacrifices of Montclair’s veterans and students currently serving ahead of the national observance of Veteran’s Day on November 11.
As a military-friendly campus, Montclair’s Veteran and Military Resource Office supports more than 330 military-affiliated students – veterans returning from deployment; students on active duty, including with the National Guard and Reserves; and dependents using veteran education benefits, says Veteran’s Certification, Advising and Engagement Coordinator Jonathan Gubitosi. This week, a Veteran’s Lounge will formally open in the Student Center to provide programs and resources that aim to ensure inclusivity and a stronger sense of belonging, a project of the Veteran and Military Student Association.
“I’m a strong proponent for servant leadership, giving back and making sure that we create an inclusive environment so that veteran students are able to enjoy the full college experience,” says the association’s president, U.S. Army National Guardsman Alexander Alvarez, a finance major pursuing a master’s degree in the 4+1 program.
At the flag raising ceremony, Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Dawn Meza Soufleris paid tribute to her father, a U.S. Marine veteran and the stories he shares about his service and its impact in giving his life meaning and purpose. “The values of loyalty, strength, determination and commitment are all values not only present in our armed forces but are values here at Montclair,” she said.
From their military experiences, the students also bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the University, enriching classroom discussions and lending leadership skills, focus and self-discipline to augment teamwork and group projects.
Returning to school as a doctoral student in Audiology, Nicole Benwell says her five years of active duty on a ship in the Coast Guard helps her feel more grounded in the classroom. “It’s refreshing. I’ve gone through all this serious stuff and I’ve taken this new opportunity and run with it,” she says. “I find school a lot more interesting, and I’m able to reference my experiences.”
Montclair’s resources and programs for veterans were “definitely a pull factor for coming here,” adds Benwell, who continues to serve in the Coast Guard Reserve. “The awareness about veterans coming back on campus adds to the community.”
The Veteran and Military Resource Office and the Office of Student Belonging are co-hosting a series of events open to the campus community, including a November 11 barbecue on Veterans Day.
The artifact showcase includes the “Gucci” tanker boots custom-made for Trevor Rodriguez, a senior Food Science major, while stationed as an Army armor crewman at Camp Casey, South Korea. There are also photos, one of Kieran Cannady, a sophomore Business Administration major, on his first day overseas in Jordan, where he served as an Army cannon crewmember; and the Christmas 2015 photo taken at Kaneohe Marine Corps Bay of President Barack and Michelle Obama with Stephanie Rojas, a master’s student in Social Work. Renzo Montoya, a freshman Filmmaking major, contributed a canteen cup used while serving as an Army culinary specialist; Patric McGuire, a junior History major, displays the handcrafted clay pot discovered in a forest near the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
“Thank you to all of our Montclair community members who have served our country, continue to serve our country, or who are from families where military service has been a way of life. We value you, love you, and are forever indebted to your service,” Soufleris said.
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