A Veterans Day love story: Student veteran leaders sustain UNC Charlotte’s founding purpose

Categories: General News Tags: Student Life

Angel Rodriguez and Bethany Mavromatis found a mission — and each other — at UNC Charlotte. As veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, respectively, putting their military education benefits to work, they are singularly committed to upholding the University’s designation as “military friendly.” In doing so, they are leading efforts that ensure the campus experiences of student veterans include engagement, connection and friendship — while preserving Charlotte’s founding purpose to serve those who serve our country.

Making this possible are their internships with the University’s Office of Veteran Services (VSO), which connect Rodriguez and Mavromatis daily to other student veterans and their unique concerns. In addition, the couple’s collective determination to reinvigorate a Student Veterans of America chapter on Charlotte’s campus has led to the formation of SVA-49ers, which is providing greater opportunity for veteran-to-veteran and campus engagement.

“The steps student veterans need to take to navigate military education benefits are not always clear,” said Mavromatis, a psychological science major who is serving as president of SVA-49ers. “My role with the VSO is mainly one of customer service; it’s my favorite part of the job.”

A community of support

According to Rodriguez, who is working toward a master’s degree in fire protection and safety management, student veteran events “took a back seat” during COVID. “Now, with everyone back — and a new group of veterans on campus — several successful events have brought people together,” he said. “These help student veterans realize there exists a community of support for them.”

For example, a first-ever networking event exclusively for student veterans was co hosted this fall by SVA-49ers, the Office of Career Services and the Veterans Bridge Home, bringing employers to campus to meet with UNC Charlotte veteran students about career options. The corporate representatives who attended were themselves veterans, demonstrating the wide variety of available career directions.

“Essential to Bethany and Angel’s ability to empathize with other student veterans — and the reason they are so well received by our community —is their military experience,” said Tyler Thomas, VSO program manager. “They are able to meet student veterans where they are and connect them to key resources for a tremendously positive effect on our community.”

From military service to civilian careers

Rodriguez’s time as a Marine infantryman influenced his choice for a career in fire and environmental safety “as a way to protect and save the lives of others.” He applied to the B.S. in Engineering Technology program, concentrating in occupational health and safety, in 2017 while deployed in Italy, making it possible to begin taking classes in 2018 when he returned to the United States. He expects to complete his master’s degree in 2023.

“Among the things I took away from my time in the military are a need to serve and to give back to those around you,” said Rodriguez, who emigrated to the U.S. from his birthplace in the Dominican Republic at age 9. “I try to do that by being an advocate for our student veteran population on campus and coordinating for resources and support.”

Mavromatis explains that her military experience “changed the trajectory” of her interest in psychology — and sparked a drive and passion for it. Her purpose now is to give back to the military community by being a part of the effort surrounding mental health during a person’s service as well as during their separation from military life. After she graduates in 2024, Mavromatis plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology to contribute to the scholarship around understanding and mitigating the suicide rate among military personnel.

Getting and staying involved

In October, Rodriguez and Mavromatis traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 2022 SVA Leadership Institute. Through this experience they took the advice they offer all student veterans to “get involved” with campus activities and opportunities. “There are so many ways to grow your network here,” said Mavromatis.

“Military friendly means engagement,” continued Rodriguez. “It means recognizing and celebrating the military community on campus, and creating a hub of opportunity for veterans. After all, UNC Charlotte was made for veterans. Higher education is a team effort and we all need to be team players.”