FORT KENT, Maine — When University of Maine at Fort Kent Criminal Justice student Bryan Piaseczny starts his spring internship, he will be among the campus’s most distant of distance learners.
Piaseczny leaves next week for a six-month deployment to Bagram, Afghanistan, with the Maine Air National Guard, where he will assist in the base’s drawdown projects as the United States prepares to pull out its forces.
“I’ll be on a security and civil engineering mission working with heavy equipment and structural take-downs,” Piaseczny said last week as he prepared to ship out. “When my [academic] adviser heard this he suggested why not go ahead and implement an internship so I can be graduated by next spring.”
It’s accommodations for current and former military personnel attending classes that has earned the Universities of Maine at Fort Kent and Presque Isle national attention from two rating bodies.
This fall USA World News and Report listed the campuses among the top-ranked schools in helping veterans and members of the military apply, pay for and complete their degrees.
UMFK also has been recognized as a “2014 Military Friendly School” by Victory Media, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business working with the military community since 2001.
Both UMFK and UMPI have full-time staff members dedicated to helping active military, their family and veterans navigate their way through admissions, financial aid, scheduling, academic tutoring and even purchasing school supplies.
The campuses also work with students who are deployed mid-year — like Piaseczny — to do what they can to keep them in their degree programs.
“I can’t speak more highly of the staff, the instructors or my advisor,” Piaseczny said. “The best part about it was they were able to coordination all my classes I took through technical training in the Air Guard and were able to pull 30 credits and put them under general electives at UMFK.”
That helped save Piaseczny about a year and a half of coursework and has allowed him to devote time to enough other courses that he will ultimately graduate with three degrees — baccalaureates in public safety administration and conservation law enforcement and an associate degree in criminal justice.
For Piaseczny academic advisor Tony Enerva, UMFK assistant professor of public safety and criminal justice, helping this country’s military personnel is simply the right thing to do.
“Their life is disrupted enough — they have to leave family and jobs to go fight for our country,” Enerva said. “In this case, one thing — the coursework — is not interrupted.”
In fact, Piaseczny is among 15 UMFK active military students participating in off-campus online course study this coming semester, according to Enerva.
“They can take the online courses at anytime during their active service as long as they have access to the Internet,” Enerva said. “The only time we don’t do that is when they are at boot camp, that is just too intense of a time for them.”
That same level of commitment is evident to John Barclay, a U.S. Army veteran and criminal justice student at UMPI.
“I got out of the military [11 years ago] and tried to get jobs, but people told me I did not have the schooling so I could not work,” Barclay said. “I tried to do the working thing a couple of years and came to the conclusion I needed to go back to school.”
Barclay first tried motorcycle mechanic school, but when that career path did not work out, he spent some time working in the restaurant industry.
“I always wanted to become a cop,” he said. “One day I decided it was time.”
Barclay started out at Southern Maine Community College, but changes in his family life ultimately lead him to UMPI.
“It’s worked out great,” he said. “The [staff member] who sets things up for us is wonderful.”
Among those helping military personnel and veterans on the UMPI campus is Kathy Davis, director of student records.
“Once they have gone through admissions they come to us because many of them have benefits they can use to pay for school,” Davis said. “Our office is the place they can go and talk to one person to take care of everything.”
Making sure veterans are getting all the help for which they are eligible can be overwhelming, Davis said.
“We take them by the hand and guide them through the process,” she said. “It can be a lot [and] sometimes they have questions not centered around education and we try to help them with those, too.”
Barclay said the help he has received from Davis’ office is a big reason he is able to attend classes, and he’d like to do something to give back.
“I’d like to start a vets club here on campus,” he said. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk to another veteran, someone who can easily comprehend what you have been through.”
Barclay has also spent a great deal of time working with various Veterans Affairs offices and is anxious to help any other vet who may need some assistance.
“I really want to give back,” he said, adding vets are welcome to contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming to UMFK, Piaseczny said, was the right move at the right time.
The 24-year-old said he ended up on the campus not long after the death of his mother and the day after signing on with the Air Guard.
Not only did he enroll in a full-time degree program, but he was actively recruited by the UMFK Bengal soccer team and has joined the Fort Kent Volunteer Fire Department.
“It all just kind of fell into my lap and I jumped into it,” Piaseczny said. “I could not be happier [and] I know my mom is looking over me because she was always on me to get my degree.”