How veteran students made their way to SU

How veteran students made their way to SU

Former members of the military cite reputable academics and veteran scholarships as reasons to attend Syracuse.
Published: December 21, 2021
Ryan Marquette, Dawid Sura, Harris Krahn and Tru Truong
Syracuse University reported that 546 students enrolled during fall 2021 were veterans.

Some veteran students said they felt culture shock coming to study at Syracuse University. After spending several years overseas serving in the military, these students said being able to meet and take classes with people on campus was the change they were looking for in their next chapters.

In fall 2021, there were 546 veteran students across SU, and 260 students currently serving in the military, according to data from SU. The NewsHouse spoke with veteran students to ask about their experience at SU, as well as what the transition period from soldier to civilian life was like for them.

In 2014, Chancellor Kent Syverud outlined ways for SU to expand programming for veteran and military-connected students with the goal of making the university the “best place for veterans.”

The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs became the central point at SU for resources for military-connected students, including active duty service members, reservists, family members and ROTC students, said Ron Novack, executive director of the OVMA.

The OVMA helps veteran students through programs starting with the enrollment process, Novack said. The programs are aimed at retaining students, many of whom transfer in with credits from other institutions, until they reach graduation, and at helping them secure employment.

“[Veteran students often] have a look of — maybe some fear. Like, ‘What am I getting myself into? Am I going to assimilate into higher education and Syracuse University? Am I going to be successful?’” Novack said. “The greatest joy that I get out of this job is when they walk across the stage, and they get their degree, and there’s that smile on that face.”

Novack said that many students who attend college right after serving in the military come from a regimented environment where they are told where they need to be each hour of the day. The sudden switch to a college course schedule can be a drastic transition.

Though many veteran students said that they think SU does a good job of creating programs for veteran professional development and scholarships that allow them to continue their studies, some still feel partially removed from traditional students in their classes.

Harris Krahn, anthropology senior

Harris Krahn, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Syracuse University anthropology student class of 2022
Harris Krahn is a senior at Syracuse University studying anthropology with a minor in political science.

Harris Krahn was an intelligence specialist for the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was responsible for analyzing and processing data. He came to SU to study anthropology because he wants to find meaning and understanding in other people.

When Krahn was 18 years old, he knew that he wanted to go to college, but didn’t feel like he had a vision for the future. He met Marine recruiters, who looked professional with their dress blue uniforms, and who told Krahn that the path for the Marines is tough, and it wouldn’t be fun.

“I really appreciated that honesty,” Krahn said.

Krahn enlisted in 2014 with a contract for intelligence specialist. After going through basic training and intelligence school, Krahn was stationed at the 2nd Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was later ordered to Marine Corps intelligence activity in Quantico, Virginia. While working in that role, he traveled to different places and saw the importance of applying intelligence to security matters.

Krahn spent five years in the Marines while taking night classes at the University of Maryland. He said that many people he met in the Marines embodied a toxic personality. But through that, he came to appreciate the friends he met and hung onto throughout his time in the service.

“These people are the ones you get through it with,” Krahn said. “It’s taxing being in the military because you don’t really have a lot of freedom. If you do things to exercise peace of mind, that’s how you connect with people.”

In the last year before his service ended, Krahn said, he met Peter Bobseine, an SU alumnus and Marine Corps officer. Bobseine convinced Krahn to think of SU as an option for finishing his degree.

Krahn said he always knew he needed to get a degree to secure a job. He wants to show through his studies and military experience that he is driven and ready for the professional world.

“Being in the military is not my identity just because I served,” Krahn said. “I want to pursue things that other productive members of society do as well.”

Coming to SU in 2019 felt like entering a new chapter of freedom for Krahn. For once, he could live on his own terms.

He was nervous at first. Making friends was different, especially in an environment where he couldn’t relate to many other students through similar experiences.

“I feel like I’ve learned so many things from other people that helped me find out more about myself. At Syracuse, people come from all over,” Krahn said. “I got to meet so many new people from so many different perspectives that helped me grow as a person.”

Tru Truong, architecture graduate student

Tru Truong, U.S. Navy veteran and Syracuse University architecture graduate school class of 2024
Tru Truong is a graduate student in SU's School of Architecture.

Tru Truong was looking for a reputable architecture graduate program to apply her sense of creativity on top of her background in engineering.

Truong has been interested in creating and building structures. But she didn’t take the risk in college to pursue a degree in architecture. She instead studied civil engineering but felt like she didn’t get the creative outlet she was looking for.

She then spent six years in the U.S. Navy. After leaving the Navy in May 2019, Truong had to decide what to do next.

“Architecture was still in the back in my mind. There I was turning 30, and I’m like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ Do I settle for a job I might like or go for something I’ve always been drawn to?”

In 2013, Truong joined the Navy looking for adventure. She was ready for a life that encourages discipline and being a part of something bigger than the individual. But she also enjoyed the unpredictability of everyday life in the military.

Truong was first stationed in Japan as part of the Navy Seabees. She was deployed attached to different ships traveling to various places around the Pacific. Next, she was deployed to Saipan on a disaster relief mission after a typhoon hit the island. Truong said that she enjoyed seeing the direct impact the team’s work had on the people on the island.

“Sometimes in the military, you will get orders and you do things. But sometimes you’re not sure what the big picture is. We’re serving and taking part in something important. But sometimes you don’t see it,” Truong said. “In that mission, it was good to see.”

Truong was stationed in Hawaii until the end of her service in 2019. She was anxious to move on from the Navy, but she doesn’t regret enlisting.

After leaving, Truong traveled as she figured out what to pursue next. She came to SU in fall 2021.

“It is bittersweet. When something comes to an end, you want it to end, but you get all the memories back,” Truong said. “What I enjoyed most about the service is the unpredictability, but I know now that I can create it on my own. It’s better to have control over my life and decide where to go.”

At the tail end of her first semester at SU, Truong said that she is trying to focus on her academics in architecture, something that she values having the chance to study after so many years.

Dawid Sura, finance freshman

Dawid Sura, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Syracuse University finance student class of 2025
Dawid Sura is a freshman studying finance at SU's Whitman School of Management.

In his junior year of high school, Dawid Sura had to choose what to do during the prime years between 18 and 22 years old. He could attend college and be the first in his family to do so, or he could join the military.

At first, he thought he should go to college straight out of high school. But he knew he wanted to see life in a different way. He wanted to seize the opportunity to serve, travel and meet people.

“It’s an experience that not a lot of people could say they lived,” Sura said. “If I want to go to school, I can always go back.”

In August 2017, right after graduating high school, Sura was on his way to boot camp for the Marines. After completing infantry training, he was stationed in Hawaii for two years.

Sura was deployed across the Pacific Ocean to Korea, Japan and Okinawa. During that time, he became a squad leader in charge of 12 Marines and trained with the militaries of host countries.

Sura described his life in the Marine Corps as rapid. One week, he would be taking classes about new tactics for deployment. Then, the next two or three months would be spent sifting through deserts, forests or swamps.

“The experience was rough. There were moments where I was like, ‘Why am I here, in the jungle, getting rained on at midnight? My friends are in college having a great life,’” Sura said. “But then there’s experiences of traveling the open seas with Australian and German forces and sharing dinner and exchanging stories.”

Sura said he would never forget the places he got to see while in the military. When he was deployed to South Korea, he said, he could see the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

When Sura left the Marines after four years and came home in July 2021, he asked himself if he did the right thing. He had applied and got accepted to SU, and he said it was a complete 180-degree turn for him.

Sura said he wanted to be close enough to his family in New Jersey, and he chose to enroll at SU for its reputable programs in the Whitman School of Management. But making the transition at 23 years old from soldier to student life was a culture shock.

“My first step walking into a classroom and seeing classmates that are 18 and 19 years old was a little strange, to say the least. But after a while I got used to it and adjusted to the lifestyle,” Sura said.

Sura said he has been trying to make the most out of academic and professional opportunities on campus, while he felt like some traditional freshmen focus more on social aspects of college. He praised the staff that provides financial and networking resources that he has seen so far in the OVMA, adding that it is especially helpful for a veteran who is also a first-generation college student.

The brotherhood of the Marines is something that Sura said he misses the most.

“You could kind of relate to the people you were training with. When you’re in an environment where it’s negative 8 degrees outside and raining, you’re with the guys you can relate to about the exact same thing they’re going through. That’s something you won’t find often besides in a military institution.”

Ryan Marquette, third-year law student

Ryan Marquette, U.S. Army veteran and Syracuse University College of Law student class of 2022
Ryan Marquette is a third-year student working toward a Doctor of Law degree at Syracuse University's College of Law and a public administration master's degree at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“I always wanted to go to law school,” Ryan Marquette said.

Marquette put his passion for law on hold after hearing from his older brother, who was deployed in the U.S. Army overseas. This sparked an interest in Marquette in the military while he was studying political science at Niagara University.

Marquette graduated in 2011 with a commission to be an officer in the Army after completing the university’s ROTC program.

“I wanted to have that experience, as someone who was young and able,” Marquette said. “The other part was a sense of service. The height of the global war on terror, doing my part to serve my country in a time of need.”

Marquette went to Fort Benning, Georgia, to complete infantry officer training before attending the Army Ranger School, along with various other advanced training courses. Finally, in April 2012, Marquette moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was immediately told he would be deployed to Afghanistan.

Marquette had two other deployments, including to Iraq in 2015 and Afghanistan in 2019. He spent three years stationed at Fort Drum, about 80 miles north of Syracuse.

During a mission where Marquette helped train Iraqi forces in 2015, he met an Iraqi officer named Captain Sobhi. The two bonded through the deployment, discussing leadership. Sobhi was also a lawyer.

“I remember reflecting on that and being like, ‘Wow. This is what these sort of relationships should look like, with countries coming together to unite for one cause to accomplish world problems,’” Marquette said.

Everyday life in the military changes all the time, Marquette said. Some days he would plan the next mission and communicate with soldiers. Other days, he would fly out to a remote location to assist in stability operations.

Marquette enrolled at SU starting fall 2019 in a joint program for a Juris Doctor degree in the College of Law and a master’s of public administration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He said he was looking for a program of study where he could finally pursue a law degree while gaining applicable experience outside of law. He also currently serves part time in the Army National Guard.

Marquette benefits from the GI bill and SU’s Yellow Ribbon participation to provide financial support for his studies.

“Being at the time 29 years old [enrolling in graduate school], I wouldn’t have taken such a risk and assumed so much debt with a family,” he said. “I am one of countless veterans that is here because of the economic support Syracuse provides.”

The transition period to being a student was very difficult, Marquette said. He fit in with the military everywhere he went, but once he came to SU, he felt misunderstood socially.

“I felt labeled a lot, to where people thought they knew what my personality was going to be like because I had a military background,” Marquette said. “People may have expected me to be a more stiff personality and almost a lack of personality compared to who I actually am.”

Before leaving the Army, Marquette had to complete the Transition Assistance Program, which instructed him on the transition of reentering civilian life. He said this became a detriment to him because he felt like he had to hide his military background from his peers.

“As soon as I started openly discussing my status as a veteran, my experiences and backgrounds, that’s when I felt most comfortable in being myself,” Marquette said. “And I think that’s when I started being more accepted in the school, as well.”

Marquette said he thinks there is a separation between many traditional college students and veteran students that leads to a lack of understanding between the two.

Avatar for Richard J Chang

is a digital producer for The NewsHouse.