Ramon Prieto joined NLU three months ago as Director of Veteran Student Coordination at National Louis University. With a strong leadership and military background, along with experience in training and operations management, he has “hit the ground running” in his role of making more student veterans and military-connected students aware of the benefits of NLU’s Veterans Program.
We sat down with Prieto for a chat.
Tell us about your military and higher ed experience.
I served for 28 years in the military, with 26 of those years on active duty in the U.S. Army and two years in the Illinois Army National Guard.
While in the military, I served as an Information Systems Operator, Counterintelligence Agent, Inspector General and Senior Training Advisor. I have an extensive background in training and education, which is helpful as I learn the ways of academia.
As a recruiter, I advised prospective applicants regarding Army programs and benefits. While a senior training advisor, I led and established a training organization that facilitated the increase in soldiers supporting the Global War on Terrorism.
I have numerous overseas assignments to far off and exotic locations. The most enjoyable experience during my career was the interaction with soldiers. To have the opportunity to coach, teach and mentor soldiers and watch them develop was the most gratifying thing for me during my career. Thankfully, I have landed in another position that allows me to continue developing and teaching our veterans and military-connected students.
To step back, after I graduated high school, and like many other young people, I did not have a plan or idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I attended Richard J. Daley College, but quickly learned that it wasn’t for me. I began thinking long-term and started researching the military. I liked the opportunities the National Guard offered (college money, training and doing something different) and joined their team. Soon after, I enlisted in the Army as an active duty.
While I was in the Army I realized the importance of a college education and began taking night school classes. This endeavor took 21 years, but I finally earned my college degree! I am proud of this achievement and want to serve as an inspiration to other soldiers that with hard work and perseverance, a degree can be earned. I was awarded a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Occupational Education while on active duty in 2007.
What is your new job at NLU?
As the Director of Veteran Student Coordination, I have the opportunity to continue in service to veterans and military-connected students. To note, military-connected students are those who have one degree of separation from someone in the military, such as a child, spouse, etc. I am looking to build on the work that has been accomplished so far and to continue developing a strong Student Veterans Program. As part of this work, I will enhance the internal relationship among NLU staff, faculty and students. I want to ensure student veterans and military-connected students understand the services the Veterans Program offers. Specifically, I will work with our internal team to improve the admissions and enrollment process so students easily can understand the benefits they are eligible for to offset their tuition costs.
What is the biggest challenge that student veterans and military-connected students face as they return to college?
Prior to enrolling, the biggest challenge for student veterans and military-connected students is determining the career path that they want to pursue.
Another potential obstacle for veterans is that they struggle with the basic skills — reading, writing and math. During my short tenure, as well as during my career, I’ve observed firsthand how soldiers struggle with their basic skills. Of course veterans are no different from other students and sometimes pride interferes with their ability to ask for help.
The good news is that NLU’s Veterans Program offers tutorials in conjunction with NLU’s Library and Learning services to assist students with any academic struggles they might face. The new Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and Lounge will be opened on November 11, 2015 and dedicated to supporting student veterans and military-connected students. The VRC will provide a place for them to connect and meet student veterans.
What is unique about NLU’s Veterans Program?
In addition to the Veterans Program and the wraparound services that it provides — which include academic support, career advising, financial support, etc. — the administrative staff is outstanding. They help student veterans on a case-by-case basis to understand their benefits and resolve any issues that they might be having. By helping students with administrative issues outside of the classroom, students have more time to focus on their studies in the classroom. Once a student veteran or military-connected student is enrolled, they are personally introduced to me to address any of their concerns or answer questions.
What do student veterans most appreciate about the program?
I’ve noticed that the camaraderie among the student veteran and military-connected students here at NLU is extremely important. As part of our efforts at NLU to continue to build this camaraderie, we have established a Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter, which provides another opportunity for NLU student veterans to connect with other student veterans to share their challenges, accomplishments and offer support.
What do you want potential student veterans to know about NLU’s program that they might not already know?
NLU’s faculty and staff understand that you have a life outside of school, and they do everything they can to support you. They’re here to help. They genuinely care about you and your success at NLU.
Tell us about your life outside of NLU.
I grew up in the Archer Heights neighborhood on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I am a proud Chicago Public Schools graduate. My family is the number one priority in my life. I am happily married to my wife of 24 years and have three children. I also am an avid believer in maintaining a healthy lifestyle both mental and physical. There is one thing I refuse to let go of from my military career, and that is waking up at 4:50 AM to exercise. I make fitness a priority by working out every day because without my health, I am unable to provide for my family. I am honored as a native Chicagoan for the opportunity to serve veterans at National Louis University.