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For Devlon Alexander, the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) “Military Appreciation Fair and Fun Run,” sponsored by General Dynamics Mission Systems and held at the university’s Academic Center at Largo in early May, signified an intimate rehearsal for his impending graduation from UMUC over Mother’s Day weekend.

At a special ceremony that capped the day’s activities, Alexander, who earned a Master of Science in cybersecurity this spring, was among those awarded a special letter of recognition and honored for service to the nation and academic success. Awardees—all active-duty servicemembers or veterans—included soon-to-be graduates; One2One mentors, who provide individualized peer-to-peer support to servicemembers, veterans and their families; and members of the SALUTE Honor Society.

“The Military Appreciation Fair offers the opportunity to recognize military-affiliated students in a more personal ceremony than commencement,” said Jessica Clemmons, assistant director of Veterans Initiatives at UMUC. She added that Don Moore, military outreach program manager for General Dynamics Mission Systems, on hand to present awards and congratulate recipients, contributed a $2,000 sponsorship that helped bolster the event.

Keith Hauk, associate vice president for Veterans Initiatives and Military Support at UMUC said that serving military and veteran students have always been part of the university’s mission. “It’s important to have a day to recognize their achievements and to provide assistance as they pursue their educational goals.”

The day’s events included opportunities for attendees to meet with an impressive slate of employers, such as FedsHireVets, Hiring Our Heroes and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as representatives from American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, VetsSuccess, Easter Seals and a wide array of other veterans’ service organizations.

The Fair, as with other UMUC events held throughout May as part of the university’s observance of Military Appreciation Month, focused on providing military-affiliated students with the information, access to resources and support they need to make a successful transition from military to student—and civilian—life, and have a fulfilling and rewarding academic experience at UMUC.

For instance, by taking advantage of the occasion to meet with representatives of the UMUC’s One2One Mentorship Program, attendees could learn how to connect with mentors to receive guidance on navigating veterans’ benefits, career advice, encouragement, general support—and even opportunities to develop and maintain long-term positive relationships.

Also, current and prospective UMUC students could enroll in Summer and Fall 2018 classes and receive one-on-one assistance from academic advisors who specialize in working with the military and veterans.

The day wasn’t all about academics, though. Participants were treated to a barbecue lunch catered by MISSION BBQ, and UMUC hosted a family-friendly two-mile fun run with keepsake photos at the finish line.

The $25 fun-run registration fee directly supports the Veterans Assistance Fund, which helps student veterans enrolled at UMUC cover costs related to education when federal financial aid and VA benefits are unavailable or exhausted. And this event raised just over $1800 for the Fund.

Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 887 of Bowie, Maryland, among the many volunteers who assisted in making the day a success, welcomed guests and handed out water to the runners.  Troop member Mark Youssef said he participated as a way “to honor the military who may or may not return from trips abroad, help people and help veterans.”

Events like the Military Appreciation Fair and Fun Run offer positive benefits to organizers, too, said Kelly Wilmeth, vice president of Stateside Military Operations at UMUC, who reflected on the day’s activities.

“Being around veterans is always motivating and energizing,” she said.

 Cover photo note: Pictured are Devlon Alexander flanked by his wife and daughters, Don Moore of General Dynamics Mission Systems (R), and Keith Hauk, UMUC associate vice president for Veterans Initiatives and Military Support.