PLNU Military Programs and Services staff, military-affiliated students and some PLNU professors gathered on June 5 on campus for a Hero for Heroes Ceremony.
The inaugural ceremony honored four PLNU professors and one Military Programs and Services staff member, each nominated by military-affiliated students for their influence and impact in student lives.
The professors to receive the award were Mike Mooring, Grace Fantaroni, Nathan Hamill, Military Programs and Services staff member Deborah Tillson and Ryan Botts, whose award was accepted by his wife, Nikki Botts. Nominating students presented the awards to their respective nominees. The award was created by Military Services Director Thomas Egan after a suggestion by his wife.
“We want to continue to build awareness about our military-affiliated population,” said Egan. “There is definitely more education that needs to happen.”
This is the first iteration of the Hero for Heroes award, but Egan said he hopes things will continue to evolve.
“This first ceremony was very informal,” said Egan. “But, in the future we hope it will become much more significant. We want to get folks fired up about the awards and to continue to build connections.”
Fantaroni, a graduate program special education professor at the PLNU Mission Valley campus, has a special place in her heart for military-affiliated students. She said she takes a lot of pride in this recognition, given her father, uncle and grandfather are all veterans.
“[Military-affiliated students] are amazing,” said Fantaroni. “They bring this whole other life experience to the classroom that is really special.”
She recounts, for instance, one student who used her knowledge of data collection gained in the military to create a digital application that helps track the behavior of special education students.
Fantaroni also said she understands that military-affiliated students can often use the extra support.
“For the most part, military-affiliated students are older and often have jobs, families and conditions that need that extra support,” said Fantaroni. “I always thank them for what they have done for our country and what they continue to do for their community through their education.”
PLNU graduate student in special education, Jazz S. Gonzalez nominated Fantaroni for not only her teaching and guidance about special education, but on many other important things.
Gonzalez said Fantaroni taught her as an undergraduate student and then became her education advisor as a graduate student. She said the professor helped her with job placement after she completed her Bachelor of Arts and closely advised her every step of the way during her Master of Arts. Fantaroni, being a mother, shared motherly advice with Gonzalez and continued to be a solid touchstone for Gonzalez as the pandemic ensued.
“To put it simply, Dr. Fantaroni has not just supported me academically, she has supported me in my parenting, career, mentored me and guided me far beyond just being a student,” Gonzalez said. “She really helped shape me from being a veteran into the advocate and educator I am today.”
Gonzalez, much like Fantaroni, is very aware of what she and her fellow military-affiliated students bring to the classroom.
“Experience,” said Gonzalez. “Veterans have experienced a life like no other. We come from a multitude of backgrounds and have worked with people from all over the country and world; we are very diverse.”
Egan said he and members of the PLNU Military Programs and Services will continue to take names each semester from military-affiliated students of professors they feel understand and support them. Egan created a special plaque to display their names and hopes the special recognition will inspire other professors as well.
“I want our campus to know that we are here,” said Egan. “We are an engaged group, not just sitting on the periphery. Our population has a lot to bring to the campus and we look forward to fostering more connections through Hero for Heroes.”
By: Amber Robinson