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Veterans Alliance offers fellowship, structure

November 9, 2017
military color guard with American and service flagsThe University’s NROTC color guard performs at the 2015 Military Appreciation Day football game. This year's game is Saturday at noon, the 110th meeting with Hobart College. (University of Rochester photo / University Athletics)

John Bissonette ’19 left the military seven years ago, but he still thinks of himself as a Marine first.

“It’s how I identify myself,” says the 32-year-old data science major in the College, who works in the University’s IT department. “Every day, I think about my time in Iraq. And sometimes, I just need to talk to someone who shares my experiences.”

Christopher Nesbitt ’18S (MBA), a Simon Business School student who is on active duty with the North Carolina National Guard, says, “Regardless of the branch, we all have a shared experience. And it’s a level of connection not understood by most non-veterans.”

Honoring veterans

The fourth annual Military Appreciation Football Game kicks off Saturday, November 11, at noon against Hobart College at Fauver Stadium, featuring an appearance by the NROTC Color Guard. Parking and admission for the football game are free.

A NOTE: Due to expected unsafe road conditions in the early hours of the morning, the annual Veterans Alliance Run planned for Friday, November 10, has been CANCELLED.

Bissonette and Nesbitt have found a niche in the Veterans Alliance, a University Resource Group (formerly affinity group) created in 2013 that consists of active military and veteran members of the University community and their family members. The support network is open to students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and hosts social events throughout the year such as happy hours, panel discussions, a military appreciation football game, and a Veterans Day run.

Scott Clyde ’03, executive director of college enrollment, cochairs the Veterans Alliance committee with Nate Kadar ’10W (MS), director of student life at the Simon Business School. Clyde served 10 years in the Marines following college, as a fighter pilot who reached the rank of major. He says veterans who enroll in college after the military face a difficult transition. They’re often older, and the structure of military life is gone.

“There was a veteran who went to an Ivy League school,” Clyde says. “He was there studying, but he didn’t feel like he belonged. He said, ‘I feel like a weed among the ivy.’’’

Kadar says many veterans are searching for a way to connect with others who share their experiences.

The Veterans Alliance is distinct from the Veteran and Military Families Office, established a year after the alliance. Run by director Pat Toporzycki and school certifying official Kate Ayers, the office is the first place veteran prospective students and their families visit while exploring academic programs and veteran benefit options at the University.

Rochester offers tuition benefits to veterans and their dependents through many programs, including Yellow Ribbon, which includes the Rochester Pledge commitment. There were 47 veterans and 20 dependents using military benefits at the University during the 2016–17 academic year.

“Understanding veteran educational benefits can be daunting,” Toporzycki says. “It’s important that veterans know we’re here to assist them so they can focus on being a student.”

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