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McKenzie Garner

Class of 2021: Military students, veterans find success in the classroom at BGSU

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Brady Clayton

Office of Nontraditional and Military Student Services is there to help every step of the way

They have responded to a crisis in North Africa, served multiple deployments in Afghanistan, done duty in a military police unit, worked as a truck mechanic, answered the call to protect the heart of the nation's government following the riot in Washington D.C., served as a door gunner on a Blackhawk helicopter in a Middle East hot zone, and trained to conduct the disposal of explosive ordinances.

After functioning with all of the stress, pressure, tension, dangers and the high-alert life in the U.S. military, attending Bowling Green State University should be a breeze — right?

“If you've never been to college and you are not familiar with the environment, there are a lot of things to navigate,” said Brady Clayton, 25, who served four years in the U.S. Marines after graduating from Perrysburg High School and before enrolling at BGSU. “You come from the military, where a lot of your life is very structured and then you walk onto campus where it is quite a bit different, and you are responsible for creating the structure. It is a big change.”

Clayton, who graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Science in management and technology, is currently interviewing for a position as a project manager for a solar farm in South Florida.

Clayton said the BGSU Office of Nontraditional and Military Student Services (NTMSS) was instrumental in guiding him as he worked through the new challenges he faced coming to campus after being deployed around the globe.

“The office was a tremendous help, right from the time I was getting out of the service,” he said. “I had never even applied to college before, so I didn't know what was going on, but they walked me through the whole process.”

“The office for military students was absolutely instrumental in me getting my work done and getting my college degree”

Dr. Barbara Henry, assistant vice president, directs the NTMSS office and staff on the Bowling Green campus. Its mission is to open doors, smooth out the bumps and soften the landing when active-duty, veterans, reserves, those serving in the National Guard and their dependents express an interest in furthering their education at BGSU. There were 645 military-affiliated students connected to the campus this spring.

“Some of them went from getting off a plane from Afghanistan one day to sitting in a college classroom a few days later, so the change and the challenges can be significant,” Henry said. “Our goal is to serve our military-affiliated students from the minute we hear about them as prospective students all the way to graduation and beyond. We are here to help them with the entire spectrum of their education.”

That might entail showing these students where to apply for aid, how to receive the government benefits they are entitled to, as well as assisting with scheduling, communication with faculty and staff while deployed and tutoring.

Henry enlists the advanced skill sets and the familiarity of other veterans and active military in the many ways her office assists these students. She is especially proud of the role that Clayton and four other Spring 2021 graduates — Kathleen Wolf, McKenzie Garner, Bryan Bills and Vincent Lupica — played in assisting fellow military during their time at BGSU, and the ways they have helped Bowling Green earn a reputation as a “military friendly” university.

“They have all worked as peer mentors or tutors and helped out other veterans while they themselves were also going to school,” Henry said. “It is so wonderful to see them finish and graduate, and it is such a positive feeling for the whole team here.

“We're so happy for them and their accomplishments.”

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Kathleen Wolf

Wolf, who served in the U.S. Army for 12 years before enrolling at BGSU, and in less than three years later received a Bachelor of Science in microbiology with a minor in chemistry, said her military background taught her to “go hard” with a goal in mind.

“It's tougher for service members like me who have been out of school for a while, but the people here at Bowling Green definitely assisted with all of my questions and always were able to direct me to the right person to get an issue resolved,” said Wolf, a Tiffin native said.

After a tour in Afghanistan, Wolf developed a deeper interest in the sciences while training with a unit that handles explosive ordinances, including biological weapons. She went straight from her graduation at BGSU into a job in the microbiology lab at Mercy Health — St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo and plans to pursue a master's degree in public health. Her expertise enabled Wolf to serve as a tutor for other military-affiliated students.

“I was grateful for that opportunity to help out other students in the math and science field,” she said. “I could see that some of them were suffering through some of the same classes I had taken earlier, and I loved helping and mentoring them.”

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Bryan Bills

Bills, who received a bachelor’s degree in management and technology with a minor in airport systems and operations, volunteered for several overseas deployments while serving in the Ohio Army National Guard and those deployments stretched his time at BGSU out to seven years.

“The office for military students was absolutely instrumental in me getting my work done and getting my college degree,” said Bills, a Coldwater native. “I wouldn't be here without them. Their help was very personal, one-on-one if you wanted it to be, and they would always drop what they were doing to help.”

Bills said he was happy to be able to give back and mentor other military students, offering them the same detailed attention that he had received.

“When you are deployed or activated, things happen fast and it helps to have someone there to work things out with the professors, help get you moved out of the dorm, and figure out how to manage your classes,” he said. “We take our military roles very seriously and when you are activated and other people in your unit are looking to you for answers, you can't say wait a minute while I do my homework. It is such a relief to have someone there to help work everything out.”

Garner, who also serves in the Ohio Army National Guard, received a Bachelor of Science in physical education and health education and plans to work as a teacher in the K-12 grades.

She found the NTMSS office soon after arriving on campus and spent much of her time there while quickly morphing from a student only into a student mentor serving other military-affiliated people on the BGSU campus.

“That office played a huge role with me and I got to see both sides of how it helps out the military students,” said Garner, a Columbus native. “They helped me out, and by spring semester of my freshman year, I was working there as a mentor. I got to see what others did for me, making sure the benefits were in order and so on, and that helped me see what I could do for others that needed some assistance.”

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Vincent Lupica

Lupica, a Marine who received a Bachelor of Science in construction management and technology, was very active in mentoring other military as well as his fellow construction tech majors. The Avon Lake native has already started a job with a civil engineering firm that specializes in building bridges and dams. He said he was proud to be the first college graduate from his immediate family.

“My time at BGSU has meant a lot, whether it was my experience as a student or the role I was able to play in teaching or helping out others,” he said. “It was important to reach out to the guy next to you, to build each other up and make sure that every veteran on this campus had everything they needed to be successful.”

He shared the sentiments of his fellow BGSU military graduates in expressing their gratitude for the welcoming environment on campus and the support network created by the NTMSS office and the military mentors and tutors.

“I think Bowling Green is a special place for the military and their families. It is absolutely what I would call a military-friendly campus,” Garner said. “Before I even started at BGSU, the military office was already reaching out to me to see what they could do to help. Sometimes veterans, by nature, are not very good at asking for help, but help is offered here before anyone has to ask.”

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349