Rear Admiral Thomas A. Cropper
President, California State University Maritime Academy
Great organizations lead with best-in-the-world attributes. The California State University Maritime Academy is a world leader in “pracademics” — the practical reinforcement of academics by real world application. Cadets seamlessly go from learning metallurgical concepts in the classroom to creating functioning parts on the Training Ship Golden Bear. Intellectual learning is tested throughout summer training cruises under the guidance of strong faculty and proven maritime professionals. Cal Maritime is exemplary of a devotion to hands-on learning that one encounters on all Cal State campuses. I know the power of this type of education — I have personally witnessed the tremendous benefits of the CSU approach as the proud father of a son who completed his Cal Maritime degree and a daughter who is finishing at San Diego State.
Along with applied learning, interactions within the Corps of Cadets define the Cal Maritime experience. Cadet leadership is developed and fostered, as is the concept of personal responsibility to oneself and to others. This focus on peer leadership and personal accountability produces confident graduates and respected mariners.
Cal Maritime faculty and staff demonstrate many of the positive values I encountered serving in the U.S. Navy. One of the aspects I enjoyed most in my three-decade naval career was working with the cohort of young adults who were willing and able to assume great responsibility at grave personal risk in service to their nation. I feel a strong obligation to continue serving with young men and women, and I have been provided with a wonderful opportunity to do so as a CSU president.
Veterans are often very successful students because they are unafraid of hard work and will frequently make a mission out of achieving learning objectives. However, the transition from military to civilian life can be disorienting. Structure and camaraderie define military life but every new veteran student has greater freedom … and greater isolation if they enter the university without close friends. Pockets of engagement exist at every university, but the comforting sense of someone” looking out for you” is sometimes missing. As veterans return home from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are all called to serve those who served us. I believe that starts locally with reduction of bureaucratic barriers, expansion of support networks and close coordination with veteran organizations. Universities will best serve veterans by empowering them to apply their battle-tested skills and training in a practical and meaningful way.
At the state level, California must prepare for tens of thousands of veterans looking to continue their education or to start their career. This includes supporting apprenticeships that build on military training while contributing to the state’s economy. At the national level, veterans should be welcome to pursue higher education in any state. These men and women swore to defend our constitution for all fifty states, yet current VA educational benefits only provide in-state tuition as part of the G.I. Bill. Service members who attend a university where they do not hold residence end up paying large out-of-state costs. This policy needs correction.
Finally, many veterans will come home with injuries both physical and spiritual. Some injuries heal over time — many last a lifetime. Last month, a triple amputee Marine veteran in dress blues participated in the pre-game ceremonies of the World Series. That moment provided a stark example of the realities of modern warfare — where advancements in medicine and transportation allow for a 98% survival rate among battlefield casualties. Though many wounds are survivable, they are no less horrific. That marine’s spirit was truly remarkable and an inspiration. How we care for, support and empower disabled veterans will be the true test of our communities and our national character. I am confident that the university communities of all 23 CSU campuses will help show the way … one veteran at a time.