Military veterans have dedicated much of their lives to service. They are part of a community that understands what it means to serve and protect. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 18 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, a number that grows every year.1
University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has been serving the military and their families for over 75 years. UMGC was founded to serve students for whom the physical campus in Maryland was not a viable option, including veterans returning from World War II. These students were different from the typical college students because they were often juggling family and work commitments that necessitated more flexible class schedules and more convenient locations.
This year, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has established the Veterans Day theme is “Service.” In observance of Veterans Day, UMGC is highlighting what service means to veterans in our community.
Michael McCleary’s naval service helped equip him with the knowledge to serve students in higher education
Michael McCleary is a U.S. Navy veteran who was on active duty for 24 years and now serves as assistant director for UMGC Asia in the Guam region.
“As a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, the three letters ‘USN’ on the chief’s fouled anchor stand for unity, service, and navigation,” says McCleary. “Military service is just that, being a servant leader and serving my nation with honor, courage, and commitment.”
McCleary knew that he wanted to work in education after his military career and share his experience with others.
“Working in military voluntary education was the goal. I’m a product of military tuition assistance and veterans’ education benefits, so naturally I wanted to pass along the ‘how to’ to my active-duty and veteran brothers and sisters,” said McCleary.
UMGC students and federal employees can access tuition assistance and veteran assistance, and having staff members who understand the process can help keep the process smooth and save students both time and money.
“My military experience has helped me serve students in my current role. I have the experience of using military tuition assistance and veterans benefits to access continued education, and being able to speak the military lingo helps to make navigating the tuition assistance maze that much easier for students,” says McCleary. “I’ve also navigated life’s challenges while on active-duty and in post-military life as a veteran, so I can help learners be realistic about setting and achieving their own goals.”
“Every learner has their own set of circumstances. Veterans especially need the support they have earned, and we use a holistic approach with veteran learners,” says McCleary. “Many of them separate from active-duty and find it challenging to reenter the civilian work force. Our approach is to help them build a foundation to succeed. After all, someone took the time to help me, so now it’s my turn to pay it forward.”
William Stevens’ passion for serving others helped him succeed both in the military and at UMGC.
William Stevens is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served for more than eight years and is now associate director of enrollment operations and special programs for UMGC Asia. He has held several positions at UMGC, including student representative, schedule analyst, and senior associate registrar.
“I attended UMGC as a student using my VA benefits, and my professor gave me a recommendation for an open position,” Stevens said. “Since that first day to today, I have gained an incredible appreciation for how we can change the lives of our students and our students' families.”
“I am a first-generation college student. I grew up extremely poor and with limited examples in my life of educated role models. UMGC is a place where students like me can find people who have been in their shoes, have served, have grown, and bettered themselves and the lives of their families. I get to share that opportunity every day in my work.”
Stevens’ first-hand experience as a student serving in the military is part of what helps him serve UMGC students today as they navigate both military life and their education.
“I've been in their shoes, and I know the positive aspects and challenges that our military members and their families face,” says Stevens. “I have taken classes while deployed, missed my daughter's birthday due to deployments, and experienced exactly what a difference it makes when the staff and teachers can empathize with you and offer ways for you to be successful in your educational goals when life can be unpredictable.”
The support of UMGC staff and faculty through the years has made a lasting impact, and their service has even impacted current staff today.
“I remember being in classes when 9/11 happened. I was over here in Japan, and everything changed that evening for us,” says Stevens. “My teachers were the ones coming out to me at my workplace duty and sharing notes and covering topics when I was unable to attend class.”
For veterans at UMGC, Stevens suggests bringing your proven dedication and commitment to the classroom, and trusting yourself to help you succeed.
“Never doubt yourself. It was the experience of both being a student and a staff member, and now also as a teacher at UMGC, that helped to show me that if I truly want to pursue something, I can do it,” says Stevens. “We all start at the beginning, some of us just started our beginning a little later than others, however, it's about the finish.”
“If you've served in the military, you know that when your service is done, you don't leave the community,” says Stevens. “My military family is still a huge part of my life, even as we all get old, and they know they can ask me for anything. UMGC is the educational organization that makes those same ties and commitments to our military learners, because they are us.”
“Empathy is the largest thing we offer above other schools, and it permeates all the aspects of this university,” says Stevens. “We strive to build better educational roads for our vets, we offer resources to assist them with struggles outside of class, our teachers have grown with our students, in their classroom experiences.”
UMGC is here to meet veterans wherever they are in their education journeys. With over 175 worldwide locations, students can begin as either active-duty or veterans, and access support even when they transition to civilian life. Military Times has also ranked UMGC as number one for “Best for Vets” in primarily online education in 2022.
“It isn't a small thing to say that we have been serving veterans for more than 75 years,” says Stevens. “I have never heard of any educational organization that can come close to matching our service and commitment to our military and their families.”
UMGC salutes military veterans for their unwavering commitment and service. We thank all who have served in the U.S. armed forces, and are honored to serve veterans as they strive to achieve their higher education goals.