When Marcus Mannino of Gravesend, Brooklyn, recalls his first semester at Pace University’s downtown campus, he remembers feeling somewhat overwhelmed.
Mannino, currently pursuing a graduate degree in human resources management while also serving in the Navy Reserves, saw active duty from 2012 to 2016 as an operations specialist, so not only did he have to adjust to being a new New Yorker, healso had to adapt to civilian life as a student.
“One of the biggest challenges was being brand-new to NYC and the fast-paced lifestyle,” he says. “[Coming] from Texas, it was a lot different. Add on that being military, I had no idea how best to assimilate back into civilian life.”
Though Mannino knew about campus career services, he signed up for University 101 for Veterans, a weekly 90-minute elective course offered every fall to help first-year student veterans adjust.
“It gave me a place to call home,” he says.
Mannino learned about resources available on campus such as career services, but says this one-credit class was invaluable for building camaraderie. Friendships developed outside the classroom, which involved weekly meetings with his peer leader, another student veteran who serves as a mentor.
“It gave me a person to go grab a beer with after class and chill, to really relax and comprehend everything that Pace has to offer,” says Mannino. “It let me make friends that were in similar situations and adapt to the brand-new lifestyle.”
Marine Corps veteran Girard Vercillo of Crown Heights served from October 2011 through 2016 as an aviation information systems specialist. He bonded with classmates in the course by sharing stories of military life and hanging out at the nearby Beekman Hotel after class. Two years later, they still meet up regularly and text in group chats.
Aiming to graduate next month with a master’s degree in information systems, he recently landed a job as a cloud infrastructure analyst at professional services company Accenture in Midtown. He found the gig after hearing a career services representative speak in class about elevator pitches and resume writing, which prompted Vercillo to visit Accenture’s office to polish his resume.
“I would not have gone to career services without the UNV 101,” says Vercillo. “I learned how to translate my experiences from the military and phrase them in a way that is relatable and understandable to companies and HR departments. I interviewed with Accenture at a Student Veterans of America national convention which I learned of from the UNV 101 class.”
This is exactly what Vanessa J. Herman, assistant vice president for government and community relations at Pace, hoped to accomplish when she was tasked with creating this veteran track two years ago. While every Pace freshman is required to take a pass/fail first-year experience to assimilate into college life, this course is specifically designed for veterans. Presentations include information about available resources on campus such as the counseling center, and stress management for this unique demographic who, compared with traditional freshmen, may be slightly older, married and perhaps with children.
“In addition to general assimilation to college life, career readiness is something all student veterans talk about, transitioning the skills they did in the military into civilian life,” says Herman. “It can be very challenging.”
Married to a 30-year veteran, Herman is familiar with their challenges. “I can read a military resume; not a lot of people can,” she says. “If you were a noncommissioned officer, that’s management experience. So you managed a motor pool, you were a supervisor and you have leadership skills and here’s how you would talk about that. We help them realize this exceptional experience is transferable to just about any field they’re interested in.”
Peter Riley, director of veteran services at Pace, says that “the key is translate.” Riley is a retired New York Army National Guard colonel with 30 years of service, including duty in the Iraq war and most recently as commander of Joint Task Force Empire Shield, a military arm that protects New York City.
“I always tell them, ‘No jargon, even within the different services,’ ” he says. “The Army has their own jargon, the Marine Corps has their own jargon. [Say] ‘I was a medic,’ not ‘I was a 68 series.’ Nobody else knows that — translate it into civilian language.”
Then, there’s the modesty.
“We work on their elevator pitch,” says Riley. “In the military, you’re taught to be humble, to a degree. Capitalize on the unique experience that you had in the military — it’s not bragging to say what you did. You absolutely want to put it down there and be comfortable about talking about the things that you’ve done. We want our students to succeed with laser-focused assistance.”
Riley sees that as the Pace class mission: “To support them so they have the skills, knowledge and confidence to succeed in the civilian world and their personal life again.”