Tom Tierney takes the lead in supporting scholarships for UC Irvine student veterans
UC Irvine donors, faculty and staff joined UC Irvine’s student veterans for the fifth-annual Veterans’ Appreciation Dinner to recognize donor support of veterans’ scholarships, including the contributions of Vita-Tech International, Inc. CEO and UC Irvine Foundation Trustee, Thomas Tierney.
The dinner connected on- and off-campus partners with members of a rapidly expanding population of UC Irvine students who had previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including many students who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the veterans in attendance were recipients of the Thomas T. Tierney Veteran’s Scholarship or the Bridging the Gap Scholarship, two critical sources of support for veterans managing unique lives at UC Irvine.
‘The veteran just can’t do it on the GI Bill alone,” said Darryl Cox, a US Army veteran and interim director of UC Irvine Veteran’s Services. ‘The rent’s too high for those that are living on campus and for many vets they have child care expenses with no provision for that.”
For student veterans who served in the military for years prior to enrolling in a university, the transition is a particularly challenging one. Most veterans enroll as freshmen in their mid-twenties, often almost a decade older than their classmates, and come from a significantly different world than that of their peers.
The UC Irvine Veteran’s Services Office is a central hub for veterans to connect, engage and support one another. It also helps manage many of the bureaucratic challenges of balancing state and federal service benefits, financial aid and connecting to campus health services. In many cases, however, the available benefits are finite.
Manny Marquez, a 27-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, was so eager to start working toward his degree, he took his terminal leave and started his first classes at Irvine Valley College the following Monday. Like many veterans who have been out of the classroom for years, he had to allocate limited educational benefits toward remedial classes to make progress toward his degree. Despite his outstanding grades, Manny faced running out of federal support before he could complete his degree after transferring to UC Irvine.
‘I had no funds to pay for school,” Manny said. ‘Either it was going to be out of pocket or a loan.”
Manny’s hard work and dedication earned him both the Thomas T. Tierney Veteran’s Scholarship and the Bridging the Gap Scholarship at the Veteran’s Appreciation Dinner, meaning that he will be able to finish school without incurring difficult debts.
Now, Manny is on track to be the second of three in his family to graduate from UC Irvine. His oldest daughter graduated just last year, and his younger daughter will be a fellow undergraduate this Fall.
‘For anybody besides the federal government to supply the funds for any student is more than appreciated; it really is,” Manny said. ‘For these guys doing what they’re doing, I’m more than honored. I was totally caught off guard; I’m very grateful.”
For Tom Tierney, giving to his eponymous scholarship is an opportunity to help restore the connection between American civilians and the veterans who served on their behalf. As a Vietnam veteran, Tierney recognizes how soldiers have earned a commitment from civilian supporters.
‘Our uniformed services are empowered to ensure our Nation’s secured future. In doing so, these Warriors for Peace sometimes make unrecognized sacrifices in terms of family, friends and self,” he said. ‘The gift of access to education is a very small contribution in recognition of their commitment to our safety and security. It’s the right thing to do.”
As the veteran population grows at universities across the country, so too do the needs for financial assistance and an infrastructure that can help veterans manage the paperwork, benefits and the challenges of moving from the battlefield to the campus.
In his tenure as interim director, Cox, who served in the Vietnam War, says he sees an unprecedented commitment throughout the UC system to help veterans thrive from both within the university and the donor community. ‘I really believe this is the veterans’ time,” he said.