This year, NYIT established the new position of director of military and veteran affairs, Frank Rivera, M.S. The position was established thanks to student veterans who drafted a proposal outlining their desire to improve services for current student veterans and recruit more. They presented their proposal to NYIT President Hank Foley, Ph.D., and Rivera officially started on January 14.
Before earning bachelor’s degrees in economics and philosophy and religion and a master’s in national security studies, Rivera served in the U.S. Air Force, rose to the rank of staff sergeant, and was a flying crew chief on C-5 aircraft stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California. He therefore understands the challenges of transitioning from military life to civilian life. At NYIT, Rivera wants to help make that transition as seamless as possible. “Drive, enthusiasm, and willingness to help are vital elements needed to build and cultivate any program,” he says. “NYIT has this in abundance. We want our military-affiliated students to receive the assistance and direction they need to ensure their success…because their success is our success.”
Rivera sat down with The Box to talk about his own experience as a student veteran and why he chose to pursue a career in higher education.
You have an interesting background. What made you go into this line of work?
Having used the GI-bill to attend college, I witnessed firsthand the transformative effects education can have on an individual. When I thought back to how difficult it was for me to apply for educational benefits, navigate college, and handle everything else associated with transitioning from military life, I saw how easy it was to give up. At one point, I was so frustrated I wanted to quit. That all changed when I received guidance from Elaine Gargiulo, the veterans’ director at NJCU. She taught me how to navigate the system and really alleviated a lot of the stress associated with attending college, which allowed me to focus on my studies. That experience changed my life and was the catalyst to my entering the field of higher education.
What are you most looking forward to?
Meeting and getting to know the current student veteran population. In order to grow and cultivate NYIT’s veterans program, it is essential that I understand the student’s perspective. This will allow me to create and structure services based directly on student feedback.
What was your own experience as a student veteran?
I had a great experience once I understood the process (which was stressful). After acclimating to my new environment, I became increasingly more involved in the college, playing sports, joining clubs, and serving on committees such as the student-athlete advisory committee.
What impressed you about NYIT and its student veterans?
Besides the campus locations and facilities, [I am impressed with] the staff’s and administrators’ desire to service the military-affiliated student population. I’m also impressed by the diversity of the student population and majors they are pursuing.
What are some of your long-term goals?
I want NYIT to be recognized not only as a military friendly school, but also as the best school in our area for student veterans. My goal is to make NYIT synonymous with student veteran success.
What do you want NYIT student veterans to know about you?
I am here to address their needs and they should expect nothing less than total dedication from me when addressing any issue big or small. I want our student veterans to graduate from NYIT knowing that this institution has done everything possible to empower and prepare them for their next journey entering the civilian work force.
This interview has been edited and condensed.