Celebrating the Veterans of Stevens

Today as the Stevens community and the rest of the United States pays homage to our military veterans, there exists another opportunity to highlight the efforts of the Stevens Veteran’s Affairs Office. Reactivated in January 2009, this particular office—now hosted under the Division of Student Affairs—is maintained primarily through the efforts of Dean of Student Development and Enrichment Programs Deborah Berkley and Dr. Donald Lombardi, Distinguished Industry Professor and the office’s Academic Director.

As a retired Marine Corps officer himself, Lombardi recognizes Stevens as the ideal place for a military veteran for several reasons, the first being the Yellow Ribbon Program. Stevens was the first university in the metropolitan-New York Area to get a Yellow Ribbon School designation, which Lombardi attests to “a leadership [that was] very proactive in understanding the opportunity [Stevens] could provide to our nation’s veterans, as well as having a deep, action-oriented commitment to enriching our campus with elite veterans and military family dependents.” As a provision under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program is available for universities such as Stevens and provides the Department of Veterans Affairs to partially or fully fund tuitions that exceed the parameters set forth by the bill. Essentially, the program covers the cost difference in between attending Stevens and a public university, such as Rutgers.

Lombardi also notes that Stevens as “an elite school that demands devotion and hard work […] is a natural match for highly motivated Veterans,” and three natural extensions of the most specialized military positions—engineering, business, and technology—“offer distinct and distinctive pathways that align with our veterans’ past experiences and military acumen.”

Over 150 veterans and military family dependents have walked through the gates of Stevens via GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program funding, a fact Lombardi is proud to share. “Like the military, Stevens is a community based on a common unity based on the pursuit of excellence towards making the world a better place,” said Lombardi. “That charter resonates loudly with our Veterans, and augurs a lifetime allegiance to their Alma Mater that augments their lifetime loyalty to their service branch and their nation.” For this Veteran’s Day issue, the Stute was able to speak with several alumni, all of whom were willing to share their experiences as both a member of the Armed Forces and the Stevens community.

Major Mark Roberson, Marine Corps

Mark Roberson and his four older brothers were given the same ultimatum by their father, a retired Marine Corps Colonel: get into one of the military academies and any vehicle of desire would be his. “It was a pretty good incentive,” Roberson recalls, “but it didn’t work for any of the five boys.” Nonetheless, the opportunity to fly airplanes impelled Mark to join the Marine Corps. “I was walking down the commons one day and saw a guy in uniform, who asked me ‘Hey, do you want to fly airplanes?’” It was as simple as that: Mark went on to Platoon Leader Class, two six-week increments of training between his freshman-sophomore and junior-senior summers. The same day Roberson graduated from the University of Scranton with his degree in the spring of 2002, he became a commissioned officer of the Marines Corp. At that time, the training had just begun. Roberson would go on to complete his basic training to become an infantry officer for six months, his aviation training in Pensacola, Florida for approximately five months, and then Primary School for an additional two years. Although he received marks that would allow him to choose jets as his aircraft-of-choice, Roberson opted for the more selective C-130, a four-engine transport aircraft. After a full three years of training, he and his wife Kerry would make the transition to Okinawa, Japan for his first fleet squadron. After three years, Roberson, his wife, and first son—who was born in Japan—moved back to America, where Mark would join his next squadron, nicknamed the “Yankees.” “I got off of active duty in 2011, and I wasn’t exactly sure about what I wanted to do with my life,” said Roberson. After speaking with Dr. Donald Lombardi—a cousin and his godfather—he knew Stevens would be the place to continue his education. “He steered me into the healthcare industry where he said consulting and administration would be great to get into,” Roberson said. “I liked the flexibility of the program and the Yellow Ribbon program was fantastic in the sense that it would cover the difference between Stevens tuition and state tuition cost.” Roberson admitted that he wasn’t aware of Stevens’ military affiliation until he spoke with Lombardi, but the more he learned about the school, the better of a decision it appeared to be.

 

Roberson graduated with his Master’s Degree in Management in 2015, and he attests that his experiences within the Marines enhanced his learning environment: “I was interacting with students from all over the country, from all different backgrounds,” said Roberson. “Having the experience in the military and a stint in hospitality at the Thayer Hotel at West Point allowed me to bring my experiences online at Stevens.” Life presented him with a new, but familiar opportunity when the airlines started to hire again. “I stuck with what I knew, and in 2015 I got picked (sic) up with JetBlue.” Mark, still in the Reserves, now flies an Airbus 320 out of JFK as a First Officer with the airline and currently resides in New York with his wife and three children.

 

Corporal Ryan Bridge, Marine Corps

For Ryan Bridge, the path to Stevens was by no means traditional. Hailing from Galloway, NJ, Bridge graduated from Absegami High School in 2003 as a distinguished scholar and two-time wrestling state champion. His academic and athletic performance enabled him to continue his studies at Cornell University, but his time spent in upstate New York would be brief. “For some reasons, I knew that I wanted to take a different path,” said Bridge. After making this realization, Bridge said his goodbyes to Cornell and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2005. “I ended up doing two deployments, the first off the coast of Somalia as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit and the second as a squad leader in Iraq.” After his second deployment in Iraq, Bridge joined the Marine Corps Greco-Roman wrestling team in his final year in the service and through the network of his head coach, he came into contact with Mike Clayton, then head coach of the Stevens men’s wrestling team. “He told me about Stevens and what a great school it was,” said Bridge. “So I decided to give it a shot.” Clayton, a graduate of the US Naval Academy himself, put Bridge into contact with Veteran’s Affairs Academic Director Dr. Donald Lombardi, who Bridge recalls making “the transition [to Stevens] seamless.” Going into his first year at Stevens as a 24-year-old, Bridge was “revitalized” by his younger teammates and peers. He went on to become a two-time All-American wrestler, all while completing his undergraduate degree in Business and Technology and a Master’s Degree in Business Intelligence and Analytics in just four and a half years via the Yellow Ribbon Program. With just two graduate courses left in the fall of 2013, Bridge was offered a full-time position with Jeffries, an American global investment bank and institutional securities firm headquartered in midtown New York City. Despite having to go to London for his new position with a month of school left, Bridge recalls how helpful Stevens was “to make sure it was all feasible.” Looking back on his non-traditional path to Hoboken, Bridge attests that his military experience gave him the maturity and structure for a successful career. “The military helps you figure out who you are, which gives you a better idea of what you’ll do later in life.” Bridge has been working at Jeffries ever since and continues to look fondly back upon his experiences at Stevens.

Sergeant Yevgeniy “R.J.” Polunin, Marine Corps

Yevgeniy “R.J” Polunin’s journey to Stevens spanned many lands and many seas, beginning at the young age of 15 when he left Siberia to join his mother in Elmwood Park. After he left from Siberia and traveled to northern New Jersey, where he would go on to graduate from Mahwah High School. The usual transition from high school to college was not the path Polunin choose—instead, he enlisted in the Marine Corps as an infantryman, where he would quickly rise in the ranking. Over the course of four years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, he would earn the rank of Sergeant, serve two tours in Iraq involving combat, put his Russian to good use by translating Russian communications, after which he would receive both recognition for combat valor and medals for good conduct and high achievement.

Prior to arriving at Stevens, Polunin completed one year at William Paterson University, but he recognized the academic rigor was not up to par with his expectations. “A friend recommended that I take a look at Stevens,” said Polunin and he would later admit that making the switch was the right decision. During his academic career as a Chemical Biology major, RJ would go on to work closely with Dr. Donald Lombardi, who is known not only for his commitment to the Veteran’s Affairs Office, but also as the Director of the Healthcare Leadership and Management graduate certificate program. For Polunin, the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program allowed him to take advantage of Stevens without having to worry about the burden of cost. On campus, RJ was heavily involved: he served as a member of the Honor Board, was selected to Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-medical Honor Society, and was honored as the Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year in 2012. In addition to his pursuits outside the classroom, Polunin excelled in his academics, graduating with a 3.9 GPA as a member of the Dean’s List every semester. “I was also able to work in Dr. Huang’s tissue engineering lab,” recalls Polunin, who has since published three papers. His hard work combined with his interest in medicine made him a strong candidate for medical school. Polutin attests that his experiences as a platoon medic while in the Marine Corps gave him early exposure and piqued his interest, which he was able to foster while at Stevens. Now, Polunin is finishing his medical school education at Rowan University Medical Center, after which he will specialize in Emergency Room Medicine.