Mark Quasney is a full-time Black Hills State University student at the University Center-Rapid City after spending five years in the Army and being deployed to Iraq twice.
Mark Quasney enlisted in the Army the summer before his senior year in high school. Since he was only 17, he needed parental consent, and despite his mother’s reservations, he got it.

“My mom didn’t want to but she knew I was going to enlist anyway,” Quasney said. “I always wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. My mom always said that I came out with a helmet on.”  

He left for basic training four days after his high school graduation anticipating making a career out of the Army. After basic training, two deployments to Iraq and five years as an infantryman, his plans have changed.

Quasney is now in his fourth semester as a Black Hills State University student attending the University Center-Rapid City (UC-RC) campus and majoring in business administration–economics and finance.

 Melissa Stetser met her husband Keith while in the Air Force. Stetser spent five years in the Air Force working as a B-1 bomber mechanic and is now at BHSU earning her degree in mass communications-graphic design.
“I was worried about being a college student, being the old guy, but when I got back, I learned about the University Center and thought that would be a good way to transition into college,” he said noting that there are other veterans, including ones from Vietnam, in every one of his classes.

Thousands of veterans return home each month with a goal of going back to college. As veterans transition back into civilian and academic life, higher education institutions such as BHSU and the University Center are increasing support, developing programs and providing resources to help make the transition from military service into academia smoother.

Melissa Stetser, mass communication–graphic design major from Piedmont, is in her first semester at BHSU after spending more than five years in the Air Force as a B1-bomber mechanic. She said it has been a challenge coming back to school after so long. “It is very nerve-racking when you come to a place and you are closer in age to your professors than you are to the other students,” she said.

However, her transition into the life of a college student has been made easier with the support of the BHSU Vets Club and the Vets Center located in the lower level of the David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union.  The Center provides support services, program information and a location for student veterans to network. “It is a different lifestyle and having other people in the Club who can relate to where you have been and where you are trying to go … just having that support system is extremely helpful. They are juggling the same things you are trying to juggle,” said Stetser, a wife and mother of three boys.

BHSU has a long history of working with the military to provide options for veterans and active duty military people to earn their degrees. For more than 50 years, the University taught courses on the Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City and now offers more than 100 courses every semester at the University Center.  BHSU has also been listed as a military friendly school by Victory Media, a veteran-owned business and publisher of G.I Jobs and the Guide to Military Friendly Schools for four consecutive years.

UC-RC has nearly 15 percent of its student body affiliated with the military. Earlier this spring, the UC-RC opened a new Veterans Resource Center – the idea of Quasney, UC-RC Vets Club vice president, and classmate and fellow veteran Joshua Kosola, Vets Club president.

The two began talking about ways to help veterans like themselves and provide a place for military students to learn of the resources available to them as well as provide a support system.

Despite being a nontraditional student, Quasney is doing everything he can to make the most out of his collegiate life. He is involved with the Vets Club and is on the student advisory board, and plans to continue to actively participate in school.

“I want to make sure I continue to get the traditional college experience,” he said. “It is not just about the degree. The organizations you become involved with, the people you meet and the networking you do is just as important as the actual classes.”

Quasney doesn’t see himself as different from the rest of the students at UC-RC. “We all have experiences,” Quasney said adding that those life experiences don’t have to define who a person is, they just add to a person’s character and to the dynamics of the university classroom.