Providing a Boost for Military-Connected Student Success

Providing a Boost for Military-Connected Student Success

The stated mission of the University of San Diego's Veterans Center is "to support all military-connected students as they navigate access to higher education, work for success as students and to project future careers after graduation."

Veterans/LinkedIn Event 2016

Wednesday night in the Hahn University Center Forums, Derek Abbey, USD Veteran Student Services Coordinator, teamed with LinkedIn and invited representatives from local universities and community colleges to put the stated mission into action. By providing military-connected students, prospective students and others who are transitioning from the military to civilian life with a solid base of information, access to networking tools and connection-building skills, Abbey's passion to make a difference showed the audience a clear pathway for what's possible and what can be the next chapter of their lives.

The program started with USD President James T. Harris III touting the university's breadth of what its schools and programs offer academically and career development support wise for military-connected students.

"There's probably never been a greater time in our nation's history than right now when our country has needed more liberally educated individuals who've traveled abroad, who've experienced other cultures and speak other languages. Our military-connected students are models for our enlightened citizenship and serve as excellent examples for our entire Torero family at USD," Harris said.

Medal of Honor Winner

He was followed by an inspiring talk by Retired U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg, a 2015 Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who now serves as director of veterans’ outreach at Boeing and is a spokesperson for LinkedIn's Veterans Program.

"The path is not always easy and, believe me, I'm living proof that sometimes it gets tough, but if you remain positive, keep fighting, utilize the support system, network and never quit, in the end you can go work for an organization or corporation you never thought possible," Groberg said.

His perseverance is truly honorable, especially because life — his own and his world —changed forever on Aug. 8, 2012 while serving in Afghanistan.

"I failed as a combat leader," he said. "Four of my friends were killed. And I lived."

His actions on that day, however, performing as a personal security detachment commander and responsible for the safety of 28 coalition and Afghan National Army personnel, helped to thwart two suicide bombers from fully carrying out their plan, one that could have done much more damage. When a bomber's explosives detonated, four of Groberg's men lost their lives and he suffered multiple injuries.

"On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best. That's the nature of courage — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That's an American we can all be grateful for," said President Barack Obama at Groberg's medal of honor ceremony on Nov. 12, 2015.

That ceremony, though, came long after Groberg, while lying in a hospital bed and feeling deep guilt and self-doubt, admitted to having suicidal thoughts.

"At night, my demons came in and came strong. 'Why are you here? Your friends are not here,'" he recalled. "And, not only did I live, but my (military) career, everything I loved about it, was over. I was a kid in a hospital bed trying to figure out my next steps and I had no idea."

But a hospital visit by a man with no arms and no legs turned his life and his way of thinking completely around.

"Flo, stop complaining about your injuries, stop complaining that four men didn't come home and you lived. Instead, be a positive in our community. Go out and change people's lives,” Groberg recalled. “Understand that you were given a second chance at life and this is an opportunity to do some good. Represent your four friends, represent their families and get up and throw away the negativity. You're lucky, but now you have a new mission, a new purpose and that's to change lives for the positive. Can you do that? I promise if you do that, you'll be able to accept yourself again."

Groberg already had a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park when he entered the Army in 2008, but he went back to college as he was recovering to pursue a master's degree in management, specializing in intelligence. He finished it earlier this year. In addition to Boeing and LinkedIn, he is a motivational speaker and an advisor for Mission 6 Zero. He's also a board director for Warriors Ethos, which helps to serve the career and life transitioning needs of wounded service members, veterans and their families.

Advice, Tips, Resources and Networking

A panel discussion with Abbey, San Diego State's Barron Veteran Resource Center Director Joan Putnam, Trevor Manion Foundation West Coast Operations Director Albie Masland and Dan Savage, a veterans’ program manager at LinkedIn, offered sound advice and answers to questions posed by the military men and women in the audience.

Savage, following the panel, shared LinkedIn's platform and its dedication to work closely with veterans. He went through best practices for creating an effective LinkedIn profile, tips on marketing yourself, seeking mentors, building a personal network and boosting the profile to compete in a highly competitive job market. He then showed a powerful new LinkedIn commercial and campaign called #HonorOurFuture, which reminds military-connected people and companies to see veterans as those who are working to develop their future success.

The rest of the evening was devoted to steps toward that future success with on-site LinkedIn experts to provide help, college representatives to discuss their educational resources, a photographer to take professional LinkedIn profile pictures and refreshments, food and tables to encourage conversation and networking opportunities.

Whether it was meeting a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, learning what USD and other higher education institutions can do for the military-connected student community or learning how best to translate one's military experience into skills that a company desires when reading a candidate's LinkedIn profile, everyone benefitted.

"I wanted to learn more about LinkedIn and about where I stood," said Kristina Gonzalez, a graduating senior business administration major and a Marine Corps veteran.

Being present Wednesday night was a good decision for Gonzalez, who proudly stated that she added important new connections and elements to her profile and gained insight into her own path toward success.

In essence, she was living the mission.

— Ryan T. Blystone