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UW Professors Honored for Accommodating Student on Military Deployment

December 22, 2014
men in military uniforms talking to other men
Major General Luke Reiner, right, visits with, from left, Professor Steve Smutko, Assistant Professors Alexandre Skiba and Felix Naschold, and Major Robert Rickgauer during a recent “coining” ceremony to honor the UW faculty members for helping a deployed member of the Air National Guard continue her academic career. Associate Professor Thorsten Janus is obscured at left. (UW Photo)

A major general and senior master sergeant were present, but the only salute was to four professors at the University of Wyoming.

Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, adjutant general for the Wyoming Military Department, presented custom-designed -- by him -- coins to four professors teaching business courses, honoring them for their efforts to accommodate full-time student and Wyoming Air National Guardsman SSgt. Chelsea Nelson in her studies while she is deployed overseas.

Reiner is responsible for the Wyoming Air and Army National Guard and directs the Wyoming Military Department.

“It seems the right thing to do to recognize somebody for, in our mind, going above and beyond,” Reiner said during the recent presentation in Old Main on the UW campus.

Nelson, from Loveland, Colo., is a senior with triple majors in economics, history and English.

With flags of the United States and state of Wyoming as a backdrop, Reiner gave ceremonial coins to Assistant Professors Alexandre Skiba and Felix Naschold, Associate Professor Thorsten Janus and Professor Steve Smutko.

“To put it bluntly, a ‘coining’ is a big deal amongst military,” says Marty Martinez, project coordinator of the UW Veterans Services Center. “Many soldiers may go an entire career having never received a coin. So it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is meaningful.”

And getting a general onto a campus?

“With their schedules, it is hard coordinating a general to be anywhere,” says Martinez, who served 29 years in the military. “He set this up himself -- he wanted to come here and recognize these four professors because their efforts meant that much to him and to SSgt. Nelson.”

The coins have “Presented for Excellence” and an image of a Minuteman holding a rifle in one hand and the other on a plow, representing the citizen soldier. An image of Steamboat is on the other with the National Guard motto “Always Ready, Always There.”

Smutko, the Spicer Wyoming Excellence Chair in the Ruckelshaus Institute, credited Nelson for her success as a student and airman.

“She is maybe one of the few students who could pull this off,” says Smutko, who also is a member of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Chelsea is probably one of the most intelligent students I’ve had in a couple years come through my classes. There are some things we can do to help, but it is Chelsea that put it all together.”

Nelson, in an email read by Reiner, said there’s nothing more she could ask for to complete her courses.

“My professors have been incredibly flexible with deadlines and available for questions and are encouraging,” she wrote. “They keep me engaged in the courses through email and occasionally speak to the camera directly, which helps me feel less like an outside student in the classroom.”

Nelson maintains and checks survival equipment needed if a C-130 Hercules crashes.

Martinez says UW has been recognized as one of the top schools in the nation for its programs and services offered to veterans. The professors’ accommodation allowed Nelson to not lose an entire semester or more while serving her country. Saying an institution is veteran friendly in advertising is easy, Martinez says, but UW’s faculty and staff members and administration make that true.

“You gentlemen did that for this student,” Martinez told the professors. “You made our soldiers, our students, our veteran students understand that UW is behind them, supports them, appreciates their military service and their commitment to become students here.”

Often, students deployed overseas are advised to dis-enroll and take a “military drop” -- or, explore Outreach School options. But while there may be excellent Internet connectivity where the soldier is deployed, that may not be available for personal use. Beyond connectivity issues, multiple time zones, limited time and mission-related stress can make studying from afar nearly impossible. Students, if they maintain motivation, can re-enroll after deployment.

Martinez, who has been with the Veterans Services Center for two years, has noticed if a student is willing to try, the instructor is willing to help if possible. When able, professors have been creative in restructuring assignments to accommodate their students during a deployment, but nothing has come close to what the four professors did in this case.

“The opportunity given to SSgt. Chelsea Nelson is truly a first since I have been working in the Veterans Services Center,” Martinez says.


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Chad Baldwin

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