Veterans Day at CECH: A salute to those who serve

As the University of Cincinnati's College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) readies itself to celebrate Veterans Day 2023, it's not just a day to honor our veterans but a time to highlight their incredible journeys and contributions. 

Joey Garro: A veteran's journey to academic excellence

The story of Joey Garro, a Marine Corps veteran and senior exercise science student, is a remarkable one – beginning with his early years in New York and a move to Florida. His life took a significant turn when he enlisted in the Marines, serving in North Carolina for three years. Since then, Garro has spent the last 3 years living in Cincinnati and attending UC.

Garro was promoted to the rank of Captain while serving in the Marine Corps.

Garro was promoted to the rank of Captain while serving in the Marine Corps. Photo/provided.

Before serving in the Marines, Joey's life changed drastically when he lost his older brother, which prompted him to enlist. His empathy and leadership qualities soon became evident, leading to his rise through the ranks from private E1 to sergeant E5. Joey's journey took him from Paris Island to North Carolina for training and then to California, where he learned to be a radio operator. For the majority of his service, Joey was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, attached to an infantry unit.

Joey's military experience has provided him with a distinctive perspective on his new academic life in CECH’s Exercise Science Program, as he recognizes the varying levels of stress students face. His ability to relate to others, along with his leadership qualities, helped him rise through the ranks during his time in the Marines, ultimately becoming a sergeant.

A huge part of my rapid promotion in the Marines was my empathy.

Joey Garro

“A huge part of my rapid promotion in the Marines was my empathy. A lot of people think that in order to be a leader, you have to be loud and big and physically fit. I started out as that, but then I realized that you get the most respect out of people when you talk to them like human beings.”

Soon after his service and a move to Cincinnati, Garro began studying at UC, but his entry into CECH wasn't planned; he describes it as a whim. Yet, his unique position as an older student has allowed him to bring a touch of humor and wisdom to the academic environment, offering valuable insights to his peers.

"School is super stressful for a lot of people,” Garro said. “Having been through more difficult life situations, [school] isn't much of a stressor for me. But for others, it might be a bit different. So, I try and make people laugh and let the rest of the students know that it's all going to be okay," says Joey.

As he prepares to graduate at the end of Fall 2023, Joey's sights are set on becoming a strength and conditioning coach for a professional soccer or hockey team. Garro is also attending the University of Florida’s Online Masters for Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, where he will further learn what it takes to be a professional in his field.

Naiomi Matley, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science at CECH, has seen much of Joey's journey in CECH, describing his impact on the program.

“In class, Joey’s usually the first one to speak up and by him doing that, it allows for other people to put down their guard and continue to have the conversation,” Matley said. “Having Joey has been really nice. With exercise science specifically, we’re all about real-life experience and connections and Joey brings that to the table. He shows that it's okay to relax in class while still working in the field and having life experience.”

Garro’s impact has taken center stage in many of his exercise science classes and beyond in his internship with FC Cincinnati – an inspiring example of resilience and dedication. But Joey's story is just one among many in CECH, each with its own unique path and set of experiences.

Stefani Vestring: Transforming challenges into opportunities

Stefani Vestring's story is also one of resilience and adaptability. She enlisted in the Army National Guard as a combat medic in North Carolina, serving for several years. During her military career, she even deployed to Pristina, Kosovo, where she experienced the diverse world of the military and shared experiences with fellow soldiers from various backgrounds. 

Stefani Vestring on her deployment in the U.S. Army.

Stefani Vestring during her deployment in the U.S. Army. Photo/provided

“I became a medic because I thought the skills would be incredibly useful to have,” Vestring said. “In fact, I still use them today and had an interest in the medical field even after dropping out of medical school. I met some of the greatest people while enlisted and that deployment helped me flee from a job that impacted my mental health significantly. The military helped me “grow up” and change my view of the world. I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

After leaving the military in 2018 due to injury, Stefani embarked on her academic journey in CECH’s School of Information Technology. Her time at the college was marked by personal growth and a multitude of experiences, from adopting and rehabilitating a dog to getting married and exploring various hobbies within her cybersecurity interests.

Stefani Vestring during her deployment in the U.S. Army.

Stefani Vestring during her deployment in the U.S. Army. Photo/provided.

One pivotal moment in her college career occurred during the Operational Environment and Opposing Force Program (OPFOR) vs. Blue pilot exercise with the Ohio Cyber Reserve (OhCR) and the Ohio Cyber Range Institute (OCRI).

This event tested Vestring and her team against simulated cybersecurity threats in a huge competition. Eventually, the whole experience led her to a career opportunity with the OCRI and OhCR as both a System Administrator and Operations & Technical Administrator. 

Scott Peña: A military career leading to educational outreach

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Scott Peña during his service in the United States Navy. Photo/provided.

Scott Peña's journey took him from the enlisted ranks of the United States Navy, where he served as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate and later rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He also holds designations as a Surface Warfare Officer and Enlisted Aviation Warfare Specialist. Scott's military career was marked by collaboration with all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and the organization of various exercises and events.

Currently, Scott serves as the Senior Admissions Counselor at CECH, where he actively guides prospective students towards undergraduate and graduate programs. His role involves supporting students in their educational and career aspirations, and he takes pride in contributing to the UC and CECH community's growth.

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Scott Peña during his service in the United States Navy. Photo/provided.

“My journey in the United States Navy has been truly remarkable,” Peña said. “I had the privilege of exploring the world while serving my country with the utmost honor, courage, and commitment.”

Scott's journey from the Navy to education reflects the value of higher education as a pivotal step in preparing for life beyond military service, and he takes satisfaction in helping others realize this transformative potential.

PaMela Godswill: From the army to a global educational journey

PaMela Godswill in Thailand completing her final semester of her Master's of Education degree.

PaMela Godswill in Thailand completing her final semester of her Master's of Education degree. Photo/provided.

PaMela Godswill's journey in the Army during the Gulf War as an Aircraft Refueler led to an eye-opening experience. Her tour of duty in Germany for 2.5 years exposed her to a diverse environment, where she worked alongside soldiers from various parts of the U.S., German residents, and students from different parts of Africa. This experience instilled in her the skills and desire to connect with people from different cultures, a quality she carries into her career as an English teacher abroad.

Currently, PaMela is a CECH graduate student pursuing a Master's in Education, focusing on teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL). She is spending her Fall 2023 semester in Thailand teaching English to monks at a Buddhist University in Chiang Mai. Her journey from the Gulf War to teaching in diverse international environments was a transformative experience, she notes, and speaks to the benefit of higher education for veterans and their ability to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

As CECH celebrates Veterans Day, it is not only a time to honor veterans – but also a moment to recognize the unique journeys and contributions of individuals like Joey Garro, Stefani Vestring, Scott Peña, and PaMela Godswill. These stories reflect the diversity of experiences and perspectives that veterans bring to college campuses and the broader community. Their resilience, dedication, and adaptability are inspirational, showcasing the incredible potential that further education can unlock for those who have served their country.

CECH Veterans Scholarship

Attention all CECH Veterans! Secure Your Future with the CECH Military Scholarship at UC! Apply now for this exclusive opportunity, available to newly admitted students from Summer 2023 onwards. Don't miss your chance to receive financial support and pursue your dreams in higher education. Act now and visit the CECH Scholarships page for more information!

Featured Image at top: Joey Garro sightsees while on duty for the Marine Corps. Photo/provided. 

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