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UC Veteran Served Army and Air Force to Pay for College

Sophia Dziegielewski, director of the UC School of Social Work, is both a Vietnam-era and Desert Storm veteran. It was that military service that led her into the field that she’s so passionate about today.

Date: 10/30/2006
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Andrew Higley
UC ingot The University of Cincinnati will honor faculty, staff and students who have answered that call to serve at a special ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, on McMicken Commons. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the Atrium of Tangeman University Center (TUC).

Sophia Dziegielewski
Sophia Dziegielewski, photographed with the proclamation of the Army Achievement Medal

Sophia Dziegielewski tells the story of when her father arrived in the United States as a young adult. Although her father was born a U.S. citizen, he was raised in Poland, so when he returned to the U.S. as a young man, he knew no English. But as he got off the boat from Poland, Dziegielewski says he was quickly drafted by the Army into World War II and served with English-speaking American troops all over Europe.

On his return, he later met the woman who would be Dziegielewski’s mother – a Polish-born woman who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The working-class couple settled in Long Island and raised six children, and although her father first thought women should focus more on being wives and mothers rather than college graduates, his young daughter, Sophia, a high school graduate at age 16, had her heart set on getting through college.

“I had excellent grades – had graduated in the top 10 percent of my high school class – and I had some scholarship money, but not enough to pay for college,” Dziegielewski says. “That’s when I decided to go into the military.”

Dziegielewski was still too young to enlist, so she worked a couple of jobs before joining the U.S. Air Force. After joining the service, she moved between three different military bases in Texas toward the end of the Vietnam War Era from 1974-76, working as a surgical nurse and a registered Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). With the help of the military in getting her training, she thought nursing was going to be her future career, but discovered that counseling hospital patients was her true calling – a calling that eventually led to her interest in social work. Briefly married and divorced while in the military, she was now serving and planning for college as well as taking care of a young son.

Sophia Dziegielewski and husband, Linden Siri
Sophia Dziegielewski and husband, Linden Siri

After she left the Air Force, she first entered college in New York, using the Montgomery G.I. Bill, and later moved with her retiring parents to Florida. Before starting work on her bachelor’s degree, she also met the man who would become her current husband, Linden Siri, while she was working as a waitress full-time to earn the money to help pay her college tuition.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Central Florida, Orlando in 1981 and graduated with honors, and later earned her master’s and PhD in social work from Florida State University in Tallahassee. “As soon as I finished my PhD, I went into the military again in 1989, just before the Persian Gulf War started,” she says. This time, she joined the U.S. Army. “The Army had some great opportunities for social workers, and because I had my PhD, the Army was interested in recruiting me to teach in their family practice residency program.”

Stationed in Georgia, Dziegielewski was a U.S. Army Captain on the Army’s Psychiatric Team and says she was scheduled to fly to the Persian Gulf to serve as one of the Army’s social work officers. “I was ready to get my hair cut. I had packed my bags and had my shipping orders, and we were literally almost walking to the plane when, because of cultural issues, the Army decided to remove all of the female officers from the psychiatric team and when possible, replace them with males to be sent to the Persian Gulf.

“The females stayed behind and provided support for families of loved ones who were serving in the war. We were at the hospital, and also worked with troops returning from the war,” she says. During that time, she was awarded the Army Achievement Medal for research and teaching in 1992.

From 1992-2002, Dziegielewski went into the In-Active Reserves, and for a short time also served on the active reserves, achieving the officer rank of Major and received her Honorable Discharge shortly before the U.S. entered into the latest conflict with Iraq.

Dziegielewski was carving a successful career in academics during her military service as well, serving as a tenured professor for the School of Social Work at the University of Central Florida in Orlando from 1997-2004 and previously as an associate professor in Aalabama and Tennessee, as well as instructor for Florida State University in Tallahassee from 1987-89.. She became director of the UC School of Social Work in 2005. She and her husband live with their 13-year-old daughter and near their 30-year-old son in Walton, Ky.

Sophia Dziegielewski

As a female veteran of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, Dziegielewski says she has addressed Veterans Day ceremonies around the country. She will participate in UC’s ceremony to honor all university faculty, staff and students who have served their nation. That ceremony takes place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, on McMicken Commons. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the Atrium of Tangeman University Center (TUC). The entire university community, as well as all veterans and the general public, are invited to this ceremony prior to the university’s official Veterans Day holiday.

“These ceremonies mean quite a bit to veterans,” she says. “My father was a veteran, and I always feel so humbled to stand beside those who believe in this country so much, they are willing to dedicate and risk their lives to support it.

“Also, for so many veterans such as myself, if it wasn’t for the service, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” she says. “The military taught me so much about life and about freedom, and without that support, I would not have been able to pay my own way through college. Now I can use that gift and give back to our country, and like most veterans, when we hear ‘Taps,’ look closely, and you may see the tear that slides from the corner of an eye. Shared in silence, it remains a symbol of the special bond we all share.”

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