Alfred University alumnus Dillon Smith to lead program advocating for military
Dillon Smith '19 knows well the challenges that come with being a member of the military and a college student. Smith joined the Army in 2011 during his junior year of high school and has held the roles of both student and soldier since enrolling at Alfred University in the spring of 2014.
ALFRED, NY – Dillon Smith knows well the challenges that come with being a member of the military and a college student. Smith joined the Army in 2011 during his junior year of high school and has held the roles of both student and soldier since enrolling at Alfred University in the spring of 2014.
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and experimental psychology (minors in sociology and public law) from Alfred University in May, and this fall will begin his graduate studies at Alfred, pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Development. He has spent the last year developing his graduate assistantship, Military Affairs Liaison, with a goal of helping members of the military – active duty and veterans alike – meet the challenges they may face as college students.
If anyone is suited for the job, it is Smith, who has thrived as a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, attaining the rank of sergeant, and as an Alfred University student, honored this spring as one of two Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior Award recipients.
Smith’s career in the military began well before he matriculated at Alfred University. A four-year member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (JROTC) at Washingtonville (NY) High School, he would earn the position of battalion commander as a senior, overseeing a group of more than 150 cadets. “It has the structure of the military, but there are no commitments” to military service, Smith explained. “It really helps you develop leadership skills.”
As a junior in high school, Smith decided he wanted to commit to military service and, with his parents’ consent, joined the Army as a 17-year-old. “I loved it. I loved the lifestyle and said ‘It’s for me,’” he said.
The summer before his senior year, he went to Fort Benning, GA, for basic training. After graduating from high school in 2013, he traveled to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to complete his advanced individual training in electrical engineering.
Smith became interested in Alfred University during his junior year in high school, learning about the University at a college fair. Alfred had Smith’s desired major, criminal justice, so he applied and was accepted, eventually enrolling at Alfred in the spring of 2014. Looking back at his early years at Alfred, Smith said there were moments of uncertainty. He was unaware of the financial aid benefits available to him as a member of the military, and unsure where to turn for guidance.
“No one here really knew my benefits. I had to inquire of the information from my Army Reserve unit,” Smith explained. “When doing my own research, I found out my benefits were greater than I originally thought. It was just a matter of miscommunication between the Student Accounts, Financial Aid offices, and the military.”
Early last year, Smith approached Kathy Woughter, then vice president of Student Affairs, and Norm Pollard, then dean of students, about planning his graduate assistantship.
“When I realized my career aspirations, I was considering my focus and thought back on the tough times I had experienced,” Smith said. “I thought it would be a good idea to analyze Alfred University’s strengths and weaknesses and see if there are ways we can better support service men and women.”
The number of faculty, staff and students on campus with connections to the military – veterans, active duty military and dependents (children of veterans using their parent’s benefits to attend college, i.e.) – was a little more than 50 last year, according to Smith. His hope is that as Military Affairs Liaison, he can give that group greater attention.
With Woughter’s and Pollard’s help, Smith outlined a two-year, 20-hours-per-week program that has very specific objectives. Each week during the first year of the assistantship, he will spend 10 hours working with the Division of Students Affairs pursuing a number of goals, including developing a website detailing services available to veterans and members of the military, and assisting them in the completion of paperwork in order to maximize military benefits.
“I will be the person to help them if they’re struggling,” Smith said. “I can use my experience and give guidance.”
The other 10 hours of the week will be divided equally throughout the course of the year working with various departments across campus – Admissions, ROTC, Financial Aid, Student Accounts/Registrar’s Office, Career Development, Academic Affairs/Provost’s Office, and Center for Academic Success – to create a better understanding of needs of those on campus with connections to the military.
“The goal is to learn what each department does and how that can apply to Military Affairs,” Smith explained. “This will show how we can improve and change (how various departments operate) to better serve our military and veterans.”
Other goals and objectives during the assistantship’s first year include creating and recruiting members for a Veterans/Military Support Council; a reunion for military/veteran alumni; and training sessions aimed at increasing awareness resources available to veterans and the military.
Smith also wants to develop on-campus events – including celebrations of holidays like Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day – aimed at showing appreciation for service men and women. He stressed that the events would not be limited to military and veterans affiliated with Alfred University.
“I would like to connect the local veteran community with the school and show them we are here for them as well,” Smith said. “There is such a rich history of the military in Alfred and the surrounding communities. I want to give back to the veterans who have roots here.”
Indeed, Alfred University has long had connections with the U.S. military. During the World War era, the University hosted an Army Specialized Training Program unit on campus, housed in the Brick residence hall. Students and local residents trained in preparation for combat, and many were called to serve during the World Wars. Following the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. War Office presented the University with a plaque recognizing students and alumni who were killed serving their country.
Promoting the ROTC – there were two cadets on campus last year; four the year before that – is a goal of Smith’s. The Alfred University ROTC is affiliated with St. Bonaventure University’s; cadets from Alfred travel to St. Bonaventure to participate in ROTC activities.
Smith also hopes to attend a NASPA Symposium on Military Connected Students. NASPA is the professional organization for Student Affairs administrators in higher education.
Goals outlined for the second year of Smith’s assistantship include creating a Military Affairs Resource Center; travel for the purpose of student recruitment; development of on-line academic coursework for veterans and active duty military personnel; and continued on-campus events and training initiatives.
Smith’s assistantship is support by a pair of gifts to the University. One – from Board of Trustees member Neal Miller and his wife, Lynne – enhances the assistantship, allowing Smith to work 20 hours per week instead of 10. The second – from alumnus Dr. Robert Chaikin, a Vietnam veteran (U.S. Army) who graduated from Alfred in 1962 (B.A., psychology) – is dedicated to supporting programming initiatives, such as training seminars, travel, and guest speakers.
Smith is quick to point out that, while he feels veteran/military services are needed on campus, the University was more than accommodating to him during his time as an undergraduate.
During his first semester, he had to travel to Germany for part of his military training, and his professors helped him by being flexible with his schedule, allowing him to complete some coursework on-line. In the spring of 2016, he had completed five semesters of study when he learned he was being deployed to Iraq to serve with the New York Army National Guard 1156th Engineer Company. There, he worked on engineering projects, build new bases, and bring power to and upgrade existing bases. During the summer of 2016, as he was preparing for his deployment, he was a full-time tour guide in admissions, a position he maintained despite having to leave for three weeks of training.
Members of the Alfred University community supported Smith while he was serving in the Middle East. The admissions staff sent care packages to Smith and members of his Guard unit, and the Psychology Department sent countless boxes of Girl Scout cookies that, Smith said, “were gone in seconds.”
The University flew a blue star service member flag in Smith’s absence until he returned safely to Alfred. “This is usually done when someone in your family is deployed to a combat zone. This meant a lot to me and really showed me that the school supported me and kept me in their thoughts,” Smith said.
Smith returned from his deployment in August 2017 and re-enrolled at Alfred, resuming his studies in January 2018. Grateful for the support he was given during his time overseas, Smith nominated his supervisor in the Admissions Office, Associate Director Michelle Pomeroy, for the Patriot Award, given by the Department of Defense as part of its Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve initiative. Pomeroy was named a recipient of the award and was presented a plaque in recognition.
Smith also realized when he returned from his deployment that he wanted to work on a college campus, specifically in Student Affairs, potentially as a vice president one day. The family atmosphere Smith has experienced in the military has been evident as well during his time as a student at Alfred University. He has the unique opportunity, through his graduate assistantship, to give back to both.
Smith points to his junior year in high school, when he was accepted to Alfred University. John Lewis, now the University’s director of Student Activities, was his admissions counselor at the time.
“He was there every step of the way, more than a normal counselor would be,” Smith said. “That’s the Alfred way – it’s truly like a family. I love the school. Everyone cares about you here. The faculty and staff – they’re all mentors who’ve invested in me and helped prepare me for life. This (assistantship) is my opportunity to give some of my wisdom and experience to the school.”
Smith said he hopes that after his graduate assistantship concludes, efforts to serve the military and veterans on campus will continue, whether through continued advocacy by the Veterans/Military Support Council, or through the establishment of a Military Affairs Office staffed by a full-time director.