It was an eventful start to 2020 for Randy Hendrickson, president of Salem State’s Student Veteran Organization, who led a group of fellow student veterans to Los Angeles for the Student Veterans of America National Conference.
“NatCon was so much better than I expected," says Hendrickson. “The people I’ve met, and the things I’ve learned will help us grow tremendously.”
He traveled with fellow members of his team, including Student Veteran Organization Vice President Gary Ehnot, Treasurer Alex Moore, Secretary Stan Raymond and advisors Ted Serozynsky and Samantha Sargent.
Collaborative crowdfunding efforts by the Salem State Student Veteran Organization executive board allowed Hendrickson and his team to travel to “NatCon,” the largest conference for student veterans in the country, featuring networking opportunities with big companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney, Raytheon and others.
“The part I enjoyed the most, I would have to say, was hearing the other chapters’ success stories and how I can apply them to my chapter to better support my fellow military-connected students,” says Hendrickson.
Leading an organization is no easy task, but Hendrickson is not new to big responsibilities.
In his five years with the Marine Corps., the Texas native worked on life support systems as an aircraft mechanic. His day-to-day ensured pilots were equipped with parachutes, life rafts inside ejection seats, explosives, canopies and “all of the important stuff” regarding safety.
It was rigorous work, where nearly every second of every day was accounted for. When he applied and entered Salem State as a veteran, he -- like many student veterans -- initially found the transition difficult.
“Everything is up to you” at a university setting, says Hendrickson. “It takes a little adjusting.”
It was not until he went to the Salem State Veterans Center that he found a true home within the university. He utilized the lobby area, including its free printers, computers, TVs and entertainment system for student veterans.
“Salem State is very big on student veteran affairs. They’re fantastic,” Hendrickson says. “The best part is the Veteran Resource Office. It’s like a place to just hang out.”
It was at the resource office where he first met Ted Serozynsky, a U.S. Navy veteran and manager of Veterans’ Affairs at Salem State. He soon became a role model to Hendrickson, “always with the right advice, the right thing to say.”
It is also where he met Samantha Sergeant, a graduate retention fellow who offered guidance. “She’s like the mama bear to all of us. She’s on track with every student that she comes in contact with. It’s phenomenal,” says Hendrickson.
“It’s probably one of the best support structures I've ever had and they're just wonderful people. I love working with them.”
The more he became involved in the organization, the more Hendrickson sensed engagement could be stronger. Just as his own transition to university life included obstacles, he recognized the same might be true for other student veterans.
He felt inspired to run for the role of president and won in a landslide victory in spring 2019. In August, he took office and recruited others to participate in the organization’s executive board, now currently filled with 12 members.
One of Hendrickson’s first initiatives was Viking MEPS Day, modeled after the “Military Entrance Processing Station,” a requirement and rite-of-passage for all military prospects that measures their aptitude, physical qualifications and more.
“That’s where they do all the screening for preparation to join the military. So that's what we did. We prepared them for joining Salem State. And it was a huge success,” he says. The Viking MEPS Day offered guidance to student veterans on topics like the GI bill, financial aid, meal plans, health insurance and matters specific to former military members.
Hendrickson and his executive board also held the student veteran barbeque in October, which drew more than 200 people and helped initiate conversations with student veterans about involvement on campus.
Hendrickson is studying sport and movement science at Salem State and hopes to become a physical therapist. He was hired this year as a peer tutor in the SMS department and says faculty have been incredibly supportive. One of his favorite faculty members is George Abboud, professor of sport and movement science and a former general in the U.S. Army. Their shared military experience has helped the two connect and develop a strong rapport.
“They take such good care of us here,” Hendrickson says of the faculty and veteran affairs staff at Salem State.
He encourages any student veteran who may be suffering from mental health problems to contact Emily Forbes, a Veterans' Affairs liaison to Salem State for the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, which connects student veterans to the proper health care they need.
Through his role as president of the Student Veteran Organization, Hendrickson is confident more student veterans will become involved and find their home at Salem State.
Salem State University is an award-winning, top-ranked military-friendly school. Learn more about the Veterans' Affairs program at Salem State.
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