Not long after he started his role as Director of Veteran Enrollment at The College of Saint Rose, Marty Dinan grew a beard.
“It’s funny the reaction I get sometimes when they see my business card, and it says ‘retired Colonel,” says Dinan, who has been the point person for veterans at Saint Rose for 1 1/2 years and graduated from the College with a degree in sociology in 1986. “They say, ‘I didn’t know you were a retired colonel, sir.’ I say, ‘The reason I grew the beard is to blend in with you guys. Don’t make me throw the colonel hat on.’ Some veterans don’t love officers, but I love my enlisted.”
Not only does Dinan love the veterans who come to Saint Rose as part of their shift into civilian life, he understands them. He’s a veteran of three wars, deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 with later deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was promoted to Colonel in the New York Army National Guard in 2013. He spent 19 years as a police officer, all while serving as a commissioned officer in various command and staff positions. He’s served in the active Army, the Reserves and the National Guard.
So when a tribe-oriented combat veteran feels lost at the College while they search for their new unit, he understands. When the veteran feels the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he can tell them to seek out help at the nearby VA Hospital with authority, because he’s done it himself. When they need a classroom accommodation, like sitting in the back of the room, he empathizes because having served in combat, he doesn’t like people coming up from behind him either.
He’s also seen the world – the good and the bad – and it’s matured him. So when a 22-year-old walks into the Veterans Center at Saint Rose talking about “those kids” in their class, who may only be a couple years younger than they are, he understands the distance they feel between themselves and their classmates. Military life grew them up quickly.
“They bring a strong sense of teamwork and a strong sense of something bigger than themselves,” Dinan says. “They learn that there’s just something bigger out there – whether it’s the country, whether it’s pride of having served.”
Besides a staff member who understands the veteran student experience, Saint Rose has a strong track record with its veterans. They’re reflected in the College’s history, including its shift to being a co-educational institution. Men were first admitted at Saint Rose as the College opened its evening division for World War II veterans in 1946 (and Saint Rose eventually became fully co-educational in 1969).
In recent years, the College has been named a “Military Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs for five consecutive years, and U.S. News & World Report has listed it among Best Colleges for Veterans. The College has its own chapter of Student Veterans of America, and it serves as an “anchor school” for FourBlock, a national nonprofit organization that helps veterans gain the tools they need to enter the career world.
In 2015, Saint Rose also opened its Veteran Center, a building where students who are veterans (and students who are dependents of veterans) can come to relax, study and connect.
In addition to helping veterans when they come to Saint Rose as students, Dinan helps prospective students through the admissions process, advocating for them when necessary. Sometimes, he says, veterans will have an academic record prior to the military that wasn’t that strong because they tried college but realized they were not ready for that experience just yet.
Instead of fixating on grade point average, he will look at military experience – such as having worked on aircraft carriers or in nuclear engineering – and he knows the capabilities the veterans must have had in order to serve in those roles. He tells those students he will be their advocate, and then it is up to them to make the most of their time at Saint Rose.
This year, he watched some of his veterans walk across the stage at the College’s commencement ceremony at the Times Union Center.
“Knowing what struggles they may have had, to see them walk across the stage, that’s theirs. They did that. No commanding officer told them to do that,” he says. “When they’d come over and shake my hand I’d say, ‘No one can take that from you. They don’t do a recall on a college degree.’”