St. Mike’s veteran-students have new advocate

December 4, 2014

Saint Michael’s College’s newly hired Coordinator of Student Veteran Services David Boyle has decades of close academic, family and service connections to the College. He also has had a distinguished career as a Vermont Army National Guard medic and unit leader with tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

This new College position became possible after a successful recent campaign by the College’s Institutional Advancement Office to fund his new position in the Student Life office. Along with his solid military credentials, Boyle, a South Burlington resident who grew up in Burlington, knows Saint Michael’s from the inside out:

“I took my first-ever college course here in 1993 through a scholarship program with the National Guard; later I completed the clinical psychology program here, I was married here, my kids were baptized here, and my wife, Joan Wagner, works as the director of community-engaged learning and coordinator of experiential learning,” Boyle said. “And now my daughter Julia is a first-year English major who hopes to join the College’s Fire and Rescue Squad, where I also served while I was in my master’s program. I saw it as a chance to put my medic training to good use for the local community.”

Boyle, a 1988 Burlington High School graduate, says his father, brother, sister and brother-in-law all were in the Army “so there was a connection for me” when he started his military career. He joined Vermont’s Army National Guard in 1989, taking a fulltime position with his unit when it opened up in 1992. Ever since he’s held various full-time training, administration and mobilization positions for the Guard, mostly at Camp Johnson or the Burlington, Winooski and Waterbury armories. Most recently, Boyle has been overseeing a Guard “schoolhouse” at Camp Johnson that offers mainly IT courses for soldiers.

Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs/dean of students, heads the College office where Boyle will be working. “We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with David, who brings to Saint Michael’s his unique experience of military service and a graduate degree in clinical psychology from the College in 2014,” she said. “David is committed to recruiting, welcoming and walking alongside our student veterans through their academic and social paths on campus.”

Boyle’s new job chiefly involves the comprehensive support of Saint Michael’s students who are veterans and getting the word out to more veterans to consider Saint Michael’s as their college of choice, particularly given the Vermont Catholic College’s long historical bonds with veterans and the military.

Saint Michael’s graduates include U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford ’77, and a Vietnam-Era Medal of Honor recipient, the late Marine Col. Donald Cook ’56, who has a Navy ship named after him. Through most of the 1950s and 1960s, Saint Michael’s had a prominent Air Force ROTC program, with many graduates building long military careers. In the present era, many scholarships and programs assist veterans and military families, with Boyle’s hiring just the most recent chapter. Institutional ties also are close and mutually beneficial with the College’s National Guard next-door neighbors at Camp Johnson in Colchester, through cooperation on programs, facilities and grounds.

Saint Michael’s at the moment has 13 veterans who are full-time students, with an institutional goal of doubling that number in the coming year. Boyle says he also wants to be an advocate for about 30 additional military-affiliated students, including Camp Johnson Guard members who take classes as part of the longstanding scholarship program that he benefited from, and the children and spouses of veterans.

Boyle’s recruiting will include visiting military base career fairs and exploring new initiatives for attracting more veteran-students in cooperation with admissions and marketing at Saint Michael’s. Beginning in November David began working closely with the Student Affairs, Admissions and the Saint Michael’s College Chapter of the Student Veterans of America to develop a comprehensive veteran recruitment and retention plan which he will be implementing as he transitions from his full-time military career later in 2015.

“To say St. Mike’s is a major part of my life is an understatement,” he said. “It’s been present in everything I’ve done in the last 20 years, so when I heard about the chance to work with veterans at a place I know so well, it felt like a custom fit. I was happy with how everything worked out, both with the College and with the Guard, to make this possible.”

“It’s a privilege to be able to lead these young men and women” he said of his service as a first sergeant in the Guard, particularly on overseas deployments. “The things I had to ask these young men and women to do were pretty awesome, but what was even more awesome was the fact that they did it and they did it so well.” He notes that “Kabul was not a safe place” when his unit was running a troop medical clinic, with 25 coalition soldiers killed while they were there. He decided to study for his psychology master’s after being called on to help warriors with mental health issues as best he could, and wishing he could do even more for them than his training at the time allowed.

The common general experience of such duty also is the basis of camaraderie he already has felt with veterans at Saint Michael’s in the few weeks since he started, Boyle says, noting that several of them are former medics or Navy corpsmen. He told of his first informal meeting with a student-veteran group who vowed to keep a protective eye on his daughter, who is a Saint Michael’s student. “They don’t know me, but they know I’m a soldier and there’s this protective instinct we have for each other. The minute they said that, I was hooked – I’m like, ‘I’ve gotta work with these guys.’ That little statement went much further than they probably realized.”

He’s started attending regular meetings of the relatively young campus chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA) and has supported activities including a panel discussion/question-answer session at the student center on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) that drew more than 50 people. For his own undergraduate degree in history, Boyle completed a SUNY Regents program popular with the military that builds a program from classes taken elsewhere. For him, that often was at Saint Michael’s.

Boyle says his approach when visiting military bases will be to have conversations with young service men and women about Saint Michael’s as a place for transitioning successfully back to civilian life. “I’ll tell them, ‘if you want to make it in the world, you probably ought to get a bachelor’s degree, so here’s what St. Mike’s has to offer.’ I can speak to my personal experiences of how great St. Mike’s is.”

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