Honoring and celebrating ’Canes veterans

The University of Miami is recognized as one of the top universities for supporting alumni, students, faculty, and staff who serve their country.
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From left, Bryan Day, M.A.I.A. ’19, president of the Veteran ’Canes Society, and Jon Baldessari, director of the University of Miami Veterans’ Resource Center, during Alumni Weekend and Homecoming 2023.

Photo: Matt Rice

November is National Veterans and Military Family Appreciation Month, and the University of Miami is celebrating its military community.

The Veterans Resource Center, the Veteran Student Organization, and the Veteran ’Canes Society came together on November 10 to host Veteran's Appreciation Day at the University to honor all ’Canes—students, alumni, faculty, and staff—who have served in the United States Armed Forces.  

The event included a presentation of colors, a performance of the national anthem, and a discussion led by Christopher Shanks, a seasoned U.S. Army veteran and senior director of MISSION UNITED Miami, a United Way Miami program for veterans.

After two deployments supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shanks served as U.S. Army Staff Sergeant at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, where he helped train veterans at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School. After leaving the military, he continued serving the military community. In his current role, he leads MISSION UNITED Miami, which provides financial stability services, legal services, employment readiness training, and benefits to help veterans transitioning to civilian life.

After the event, the Veterans Resource Center held a reception in the newly minted Veteran Students Organization Suite.

“The University has a long-standing commitment to our veteran student population, and now, with our new Veterans Resource Center, we can provide academic assistance and career guidance in a collaborative way to assist veterans in making that transition from military service to campus life,” said Jon Baldessari, director of the Veterans Resource Center. “A good example of those efforts is our Veteran’s Appreciation Day event where the University community comes together to show our gratitude and support for our veteran students.”

U.S. News & World Report lists the University of Miami as a top school for the veteran community. The University earned this distinction by participating in federal initiatives aimed at making a college education more affordable for veterans and active-duty service members, including the Yellow Ribbon Scholarship Program, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the Montgomery GI Bill. The University also participates in the state initiative providing scholarships for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans.

“I was born and raised in Miami, [yet] attending the University of Miami seemed like an unattainable dream due to financial constraints,” said Anthony Ustariz, current senior and president of the Veteran Student Organization. “However, I am profoundly grateful to both the military and this remarkable institution for providing me with the opportunity to pursue my dreams.”

Thanks to financial assistance, Ustariz will become the first in his family to graduate from college.

The University offers several scholarships aimed at helping the military community to pursue higher education. The Pat Tillman Foundation’s Tillman Military Scholars Program supports active and veteran service members and their families by removing financial barriers to completing a degree or certification program of choice. The Col. Alice A. Kerr Veterans Scholarship Fund, established by Alice Kerr, M.A.L.S. ’97, J.D. ’20, and her wife, Sheryl S. Borg, B.B.A. ’85, M.S.Ed. ’92, supports veterans of any school or college after their military service ends. The Col. Thomas L. Duquette and Dr. Sherri Maxwell Endowed Veterans Physical Therapy Scholarship, established by Col. Thomas Duquette, B.S.Ed. ’83, and his wife, Lt. Col. Sherri Maxwell, O.D., supports scholarships for military veterans pursuing degrees in physical therapy. The Hurricanes Heroes Scholarship Fund, established with a gift from Walter Penberthy, M.B.A. ’91, supports veterans pursuing their graduate degrees at the Miami Herbert Business School.

For those with student loans, the University participates in the Military Service Interest Waiver, which prevents interest from accruing on a Direct Loan while on active duty for a period of up to 60 months, and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which offers those on active duty a maximum interest of six percent on any student loans borrowed before military service.

The University also annually awards the Magruder Douglas Army ROTC Award to a deserving Reserve Officers’ Training Corps student.

In addition, the University offers career planning, counseling, and tutoring to its veteran community.

“I grew up in Miami and always dreamed of becoming a Hurricane, and after 15 years in the army and multiple tours of combat duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was able to go to the University of Miami and earn my master’s degree in international administration through the Veterans Administration (VA) vocational rehabilitation program,” said Bryan Day, M.A.I.A. '19, president of the Veteran ’Canes Society. “It is my honor and privilege to lead my fellow veteran ’Canes as we celebrate the transformative role that the military and the University of Miami have played in our lives.”