September 21, 2014
Ex-Bomber Pilot Joins University Ranks to Support Student Veterans
Aug. 28, 2014
Lisa McNeme says she doesn’t want military ranks to get in the way of connecting with student veterans at UT Dallas.
McNeme, the new assistant director of the University’s Veteran Services Center, prefers to be on a first-name basis with students who served in the U.S. armed forces.
“Student veterans are a diverse group. Our military experiences were unique, but what we all now have in common is our connection to UT Dallas,” McNeme said.
The center, on the first floor of the Eugene McDermott Library, provides programs and activities for student veterans. They have access to a lounge study area with computers and a space to connect with each other and University staff.
McNeme’s experience in the U.S. Air Force has helped prepare her to work with them.
McNeme, a lieutenant colonel who was a B-52 pilot and served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, most recently worked as an admissions liaison director for northeast Texas in the Air Force Reserve, where she mentored and evaluated students. That role solidified her desire to work in higher education and led her to UT Dallas in June for her first full-time civilian job.
McNeme already has set goals: to help ensure that veterans complete their education at UT Dallas and to help the campus community understand the particular experiences that veterans bring with them.
“It’s definitely a group to pursue. I want faculty and staff to see what they bring to the classroom — maturity and leadership,” she said.
“Student veterans are a diverse group. Our military experiences were unique, but what we all now have in common is our connection to UT Dallas.”
UT Dallas had about 600 people on campus who received veterans’ benefits last semester. Student Veterans of America estimates there are 550,000 veterans in higher education.
Across U.S. colleges, student veterans, whose average age is 33, often have families and jobs when they arrive on campus. McNeme wants to offer opportunities for the University’s veterans and their families to participate together at campus events.
“The military culture includes family support. UT Dallas can be a really good transition for them,” she said.
Veterans may have particular needs as college students, McNeme said. Student veterans might need a testing environment that is quiet in order to concentrate, or extra help with assignments.
Some veterans may benefit from assistance transitioning from the military, where they have been told where to go, what to do and how to act, she said.
McNeme praised initiatives at the UT Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth, such as the Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training program, which helps people, including student veterans, restructure their critical thinking skills for success.
Research initiatives at the center’s Brain Performance Institute help optimize brain performance in veterans, building resilience in cognitive brain function.
Another resource for student veterans will be a job fair Wednesday, Sept. 24. The VETworking Fair, co-hosted by the veterans center, the University’s Career Center and the Naveen Jindal School of Management’s Career Management Center, will help introduce them to employers that have veteran-hiring initiatives.
For McNeme, being a military pilot was a lifelong goal. She recalled wanting to be an astronaut when she was in junior high and saw the military as the first step as well as a way to pay for college.
What: UT Dallas student veterans can meet with employers seeking to hire veterans.
When: 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24
Where: JSOM 12.110
Other: Business casual attire. Bring resume and contact information. Bring Comet Card for check-in. RSVP at the Veteran Services Center. First 50 student veterans to sign up will receive a free T-shirt at the event.
She participated in the ROTC program at the University of Michigan, was commissioned before attending graduate school and then went to undergraduate pilot training for her first assignment.
“Though my career path changed, I found that the military is just a really good fit for me — the goals, the structure, teamwork and mission,” said McNeme, who was on active duty in the Air Force from 1995 to 2004.
When she joined the Air Force, only 3 percent of pilots were female; by 1995, the first female combat crew members began training for service in B-52s — long-range, strategic heavy bombers with a wingspan of 185 feet that can carry 70,000 pounds of weapons.
“It’s a huge aircraft, and really old. There have been three generations serving on them. The B-52s I flew were built in 1960 and 1961,” McNeme said.
She also flew a C-21 Learjet, used mainly for VIP transport and medical evacuation.
“At that point, I was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom, it didn’t take long for us to gain air superiority, but we still provided 24-hour on-call service,” McNeme said.
Regardless of their branch of service or experience, veterans come back with a perspective that she understands.
“The veterans are more experienced with life. The real pleasure in this job will be to see them reach their goals and support them in the process,” McNeme said.