Soldiers to Scholars Gallery
Telling your story
Soldiers to Scholars Gallery consists of personal interviews with veterans and service members who are students, staff and faculty at Mount Saint Mary’s University. The interviews will focus on each veteran’s /service members’ military experience as well as their transition back into civilian life, particularly into higher education.
In the Service of Their Country
by Phillip Jordan
Before Sgt. Thomas Winslow shipped out to Europe to serve in Gen. George Patton's Third Army, the L.A. native was stationed at Camp Cooke, an isolated post in California's Central Coast. Weekend passes off base were eagerly anticipated. Almost every time he received one, Winslow hit the highway and followed the coast south, through Friday night fog.
Like many soldiers during World War II, he had a girl back home. But Winslow's girl wasn't just sitting around waiting for him to visit. U.S. Navy Seaman Ethel Kristofek '39, had duties of her own, as one of at least 17 Mount Saint Mary's alumnae who served in the U.S. military during World War II...
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Robert Naranjo '14
First Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps
Master of Business Administration/MSMU's Graduate Program
When Robert Naranjo '14 left for Afghanistan, he was in the midst of his fall semester. Thanks to a cross-departmental effort back at the Mount, Naranjo's barracks at Camp Leatherneck, in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, doubled as a virtual classroom - and he completed the semester via independent study. Shortly before returning home the following year, Naranjo began working with his new MBA cohort electronically, and stayed up to date by watching his first few classes online.
"I wrote my papers and watched those videos in our camp offices," Naranjo says. "Sometimes it was pretty late at night, but I just figured out a process that fit within my duties there. If education's important to you, you make the time for it."
Back on campus, Naranjo is on pace to graduate this May with his MBA. He has been commuting to the College from San Diego, where he is stationed as an active-duty officer at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. He hopes to eventually move to northern Virginia, where his son, who will turn 2 this summer, lives with his mother.
Before he leaves the Mount, Naranjo is helping by sharing what he learned during his time as a student in the field. "It was a learning experience for everyone," he says. "I was the guinea pig. My hats off to everyone here, especially to Dr. Bruning."
Megan Rodriguez '14
Airman First Class, United States Air Force
Political Science/MSMU's Traditional Undergraduate Program
Airman Megan Rodriguez '14 spent most of her service with the 5th Security Forces Squadron in a spot far removed from her L.A. home: guarding nuclear weapons at an Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota.
"It was top-secret clearance and I usually got up around 3:30 in the morning for a 12-hour shift," Rodriguez says. "In the winter, it was 20 degrees below zero and we'd do our drills in the snow."
In 2012, Rodriguez volunteered to opt out of the Air Force at a time when the service branch was trimming its ranks. She then enrolled in the Mount's traditional baccalaureate program, majoring in political science with an eye toward a career in international relations, law or diplomacy.
Rodriguez immersed herself in the College's Women's Leadership program, attended the Mount's Ready to Run campaign training for women, and completed a peer mentor program through the National Society of Leadership and Success. Still, she felt something was absent from her college experience.
"I missed the camaraderie that exists among fellow veterans," she says. So, in the fall of 2012, she formed the Veterans Outreach Association (VOA), and began publicizing the group to students, faculty and staff. She, too, cites the unflagging support of the College's Student Veteran Liaison: "Dr. Bruning is the first person I connected with here. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here and the VOA wouldn't exist. She's been more than a mentor. She's family now."
Through the VOA, Rodriguez has brought guest speakers to campus, organized Masses of Remembrance and hosted meet-and-greet events to bring student veterans together. This spring, VOA members delivered Valentine's cards to fellow veterans at the Fisher House Foundation and participated in a fundraising hike at Mount Baldy through The Heroes Project.
Rodriguez is also reaching out specifically to women veterans, who are statistically less likely to disclose their Armed Forces service.
"Women face a very specific set of issues when they transition back to civilian life," she says. "Especially as a women's college, it's important that we support our women veterans and create a space for them on campus where they feel comfortable."
Eric Mejia '15
Corporal, United States Marine Corps
Religious Studies/MSMU's Weekend College Program
Eric Mejia '15 spent seven years in the Marines. As an infantryman, he was stationed in Utah, Hawaii and at California's Camp Pendleton and spent three years as a recruiter in Huntington Park, Calif.
After his service ended, Mejia figured he'd work a while and then go back to school. "Before I knew it, one year turned into another, and another, and soon, a decade had gone by," he says.
But he never gave up the dream of completing his degree. Last year, an alum recommended Mount Saint Mary's to Mejia. When he checked out the Mount's Weekend College, he appreciated the schedule structured for working adults and the smaller class sizes. "And there's just a welcoming culture here that really distinguishes the Mount," he says. "That's what won me over."
Today, Mejia is a religious studies major, with a minor in business. This winter, he started a new job in the Mount's business office.
He is also volunteering with groups that assist homeless veterans. Someday, Mejia would like to start a faith-based organization that prevents recently discharged veterans from becoming homeless.
"There's a detachment that can hit you when you get out of the service," he says. "You're so used to military life, the chain of command. And then when you're out, all of a sudden that structure doesn't exist anymore. It can be difficult to adapt."
Over the past two semesters, he has delivered several class presentations that focus on this passion.
"I put off school for so long and it always haunted me," Mejia says. "But there are many other stories out there like mine. I want to be an example for others, to let them know that this is still possible."