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Student Veterans Answer the Call to Serve, On and Off Campus


As members of the military, they answered the call to serve their country. Now, as students and soon-to-be alumni, Saint Louis University’s student-veterans have answered a new call to serve as Billikens.

Student Veterans Association members on a day of service

Members of SLU's Student Veterans Association (SVA) gave their time during a day of service at a Salvation Army facility earlier this year. Submitted photo

The University, ranked in the top 50 schools for student-veterans by College Consensus, has offered student-vets a home by actively supporting military and military family students with discounted tuition rates, through its participation in the Yellow Ribbon program, and by maintaining an active relationship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 “SLU has been phenomenal with hearing the concerns of the veteran community,” rising senior and Navy veteran Daniel Halley, president of the Student Veterans Association (SVA), said. “St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was a veteran and is still a role model for SLU’s veteran community. Military service entails a great deal of sacrifice and devotion. Service is engrained in all of our duties and we continue to serve our community and people every day.”

Student-veteran Nathan Nenninger expressed his gratitude for SLU faculty and staff members’ support by presenting the flag that flew over the base he was deployed to in Afghanistan and other gifts of appreciation to University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., in June 2017.

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D. and the Nenningers
The flag that Staff Sgt. Nathan Nenninger and his wife, Jessica (right) presented to SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., flew over Nenninger's base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and traveled with him on missions in 2016. SLU photo

From Military Service to Community Service

The 79-member strong SVA takes part in the annual St. Louis Student Veterans Week, hosting events that include cleaning Fort Belle Fountaine County Park and serving at the Salvation Army’s community for people experiencing homelessness. The University is also home to a chapter of SALUTE, the honor society for student-veterans.

In fall 2018, the SVA brought ex-Delta Force commander Sgt. Major (Ret.) Tom Satterly, and his wife, Jen Satterly, to speak on campus. Tom Satterly was part of the American team stranded in war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, in a mission later portrayed in the book and film Black Hawk Down. The Satterlys now run a foundation, All Secure Mission, dedicated to helping veterans and their families cope with mental health issues.

Tom Satterly spoke before a crowd including SLU students, faculty and staff members in the Busch Student Center’s St. Louis Room. He and his wife also met for discussions with student veterans during their December 2018 visit.

The event, and other SVA outreach activities, have been aimed at building student-veterans’ connections to the wider SLU community, Brett Woodall, outgoing SVA vice president, explained. Woodall, a graduating senior, is pursuing graduate work in clinical psychology at the University of Texas-Austin, following commencement. An Army veteran who served tours in Afghanistan, he noted that SLU’s student veterans, while balancing family life, military service, and schoolwork, also want to be a force for good on campus.

Brett Woodall and Daniel Halley

Soon-to-be graduatesBrett Woodall (left) and senior Daniel Halley (right) are both veterans who have found a home at Saint Louis University. Woodall, an Army veteran, is going on to pursue doctoral studies in clinical psychology. Halley, a Navy veteran graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences, is getting ready to take his MCAT as he prepares for his SLU classes and the application process to medical schools next year. Photo by Amelia Flood

Bringing Military Core Values Into Campus Life

The ability of student-veterans to contribute to campus life, and the perspective they bring from their military service, gives these students a special voice in campus discussions about today’s challenging social, political and economic issues, junior Ricardo Keele said.

“As a Jesuit university, a SLU education entails caring for the mind, body and spirit, and encourages us to be well-rounded people,” Keele said. “This parallels military core values, and we all want to contribute to the greater good. I believe veterans bring a unique perspective to the University.”

“Most of us have deployed overseas in combat zones or to countries that do not share the same customs or economic equality that we have at home,” Keele continued. “That perspective can be very eye-opening through dialogue or assignments for students and professors.”

Balancing Assignments with University Support

Keele, a Marine Corps veteran and current member of the Marine Corps reserves, is now a student in the School for Professional Studies. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan four times and has previously worked as an information technology specialist. Keele currently drills out of the Great Lakes station north of Chicago once a month.

Military service entails a great deal of sacrifice and devotion. Service is engrained in all of our duties and we continue to serve our community and people every day.”

Daniel Halley, president of the Student Veterans Association

During a 2018 deployment to Afghanistan, he began looking to transfer to a new university. He found SLU’s professional studies programs matched his future goals, applied and was accepted. As soon as he received his acceptance letter, he began looking for a veteran advocacy group on campus. He found the support he was looking for through SVA and SLU’s Office of Veteran Affairs. He also found supportive faculty in his classrooms.

“SLU has several veteran professors who understand the sacrifice of serving our country,” Keele explained. “They can and have supported several veterans in obtaining their educational goals.”

Finding A Place As a Veteran, Mother and Billiken

Junior Tahlia Theisen hails from a military family, with grandfathers who served as Marines and as Navy SEALs. She enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 2013. She went on to serve four years as an aviation logistics supply accountant at Camp Pendleton, California, before returning home to the St. Louis area. After touring SLU, she recalled, “I knew it was the school for me.”

“I have had a positive, yet unique experience here at SLU,” Theisen, who is studying in the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business, said. “When I first got here, I really felt like I did not belong here, simply because of the age difference, as well as being a single mother. I felt like most people wouldn’t understand my differences, but I was welcomed and am still becoming more comfortable here.”

Part of finding her place at SLU meant connecting with other student veterans, she said.

“I believe we are a group of people who have experienced different things in our lives as well as careers,” Theisen said. “We all bring something unique to the table, but are joined together by our discipline, irregular humor, travel experience and integrity.”

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications