A Tribute: Giving Thanks to Student Veteran Advocates

Nov. 7, 2013

After serving as a combat medic in the U.S. Army for five years, Tucson native Matthew Randle decided to pursue a higher education degree.

After choosing the UA, he helped develop and expand programs for student veterans that resulted in the UA gaining notoriety across the U.S. Along the way, Randle said he found that the UA was, and still is, full of individuals willing and ready to help student veterans to be successful in all facets of life.

As a show of thanks, Randle shares a tribute:

So many faculty and staff at the University of Arizona have been advocates of student veterans and are working to change the path of the thousands of student veterans to follow.

What will always resonate with me from my journey at the University is knowing that myself and others had a real hesitation about the reception we would receive after ending our military careers and entering higher education. But we have been so resoundingly welcomed and appreciated, and that is what makes the UA a leader across the nation in its support and education of student veterans.

When other schools are copying our model and calling on us for guidance, you realize that doesn't happen by chance. And when people think about our service, it is of utmost importance to recognize the work that others do to help us.

When I think about the backbone of veteran education and support at the UA, I think about Maralynn Bernstein in the Office of the Registrar, our registrar representative. We call her "Momma Bear" because she cares. Bernstein takes the time to ensure things are done accurately and adds a caring face and soul to a process rife with red tape and speed bumps.

The V.E.T.S. Initiative director Cody Nicoholls, who is a vet himself, has gone above and beyond at every juncture to address all the issues we face. The growth of the program and support on campus has been nurtured by his guidance and wisdom. He is the calm in the storm for many of us.

I will always be deeply grateful to the work of Phil Callahan, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who developed with Michael Marks specific courses for student veterans entering college. These two men refused to allow failure to be an option and swam against the current. The "docs" showed us we were capable and prepared for all the challenges we faced. They made us believe in ourselves.

UA Police Chief Anthony Daykin won't tell you this but, on a regular basis, he would call Papa Johns and have four or five pizzas delivered to the VETS office signed "anonymous." He is a veteran himself and has provided mentorship and guidance to many of us on our journeys.

When I was involved with the Student Veterans of America UA chapter we didn't know how to apply for money to go to conferences. Judy Harrison at the Arizona Student Unions sat us down and walked us through the process. It wasn't necessarily part of her duty but, as a result, we had a chance to send people to conferences, even at Google. That came about because she, like other people, made the effort to take the time and help.

There were former UA presidents Robert Shelton and Eugene Sander, also a veteran; I also think about vice president for Student Affairs Melissa Vito who has always been a huge supporter of student veterans. When the support comes from the top, mountains can move.

At the Disability Resource Center, I appreciate Sue Kroeger and Amanda Kraus showing us that access was possible; also, Janet Olson of the UA Healing Touch Initiative would provide healing touch massage and therapy to student veterans.

At the James E. Rogers College of Law, the support of faculty members Paul Bennett and Kenny Hegland is what made the vet court and vet clinic a reality.

Not only did they selflessly give of themselves and their time but they encouraged and mentored us to believe we could succeed.

Also, Mandy Shoemaker, the registrar at the law school, is caring and personable, always taking the time to answer questions about the most stressful of things. Willie Jordan-Curtis, assistant dean of Student Affairs at the law school who is also a veteran, has been a rock for those of us who needed support and is always willing to help make difficult tasks clear and achievable. And College of Law dean Marc L. Miller has become a champion of all issues surrounding veterans advocacy and education at the law school.

Education is the key to success, and independence and self-worth. And so many people have gone out of their way to help us.

That's the great part – for student veterans, our individual experiences at the university are unique, in that we have interacted in many different people and departments. But what is not unique is that those people have been friendly and helpful in making sure we achieve our dreams.

-Matthew Randle, a third-year student in the UA James E. Rogers College of Law, has helped usher in important programs and services for student veterans at the UA, helping the institution become a national model for supporting military veterans returning from service and entering higher education. In 2011, Randle graduated from the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in family studies and human development. He first served as the Veterans' Education and Transition Services Office student director and is past president of the UA chapter of the Student Veterans of America. Randle plans to graduate with his Juris Doctorate from the UA in May 2014. (Photo credit: Patrick McArdle/UANews)