The Military Made Lucas Maas and Mike Pineda Better Students. They’re Making Saint Mary’s Better, Too.

Veterans Day 2022 also marks the one-year anniversary of the Veteran Resource Center.

by Hayden Royster | November 11, 2022

When it comes to managing the stresses of college, veterans and transfer students Lucas Maas ’24 and Mike Pineda ’24 think they might have an advantage. “If there’s an assignment that needs to be done, I’m just like, ‘I got to sit down and do it,’” Pineda says. “It’s not like I have to carry a 90-pound pack, run up a hill within three minutes, and then still conduct cross-fires.”

Pineda and Maas enlisted as teenagers—in the Navy and Marine Corps respectively—and now, after multiple tours and years in the workforce, they’re undergrads at Saint Mary’s, a bit older and a whole lot wiser. Veterans approach education differently, Maas says. “My four years, I had to earn them.”

After multiple tours and years in the workforce, they’re undergrads at Saint Mary’s, a bit older and a whole lot wiser.

Along the way, too, these students are working to establish a more robust on-campus support system for former service members like themselves. A year ago, Pineda helped create the Veteran Resource Center, a new gathering space located in Filippi Hall. 

There’s still a lot more work to be done, Maas says. But he’s hopeful: “I feel like we are now taking steps to make that better.”

Obtaining the Tools

For Lucas Maas, his roundabout journey to Saint Mary’s began in 2015, in his dorm room as a first-year student at Penn State. A varsity cornerback in high school, he resisted the tug of college football, wanting to focus on his academics instead. But three days into the fall semester, he awoke with an epiphany: “I just don't feel like I’m ready for this experience yet.” 

That same day, Maas withdrew from his classes and enlisted in the US Marine Corps. 

After a grueling 13-week boot camp at Parris Island, Maas was sent to Marine Combat Training. Unlike other military branches, no Marine escapes MCT. “You could be a cook, you could be pushing papers all day, you could be a photographer—you got to go through combat training,” he says. 

Maas was a field radio operator, and his experience after training, he admits, was “pretty awesome.” He was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, for three years, and deployed twice throughout the Pacific, traveling to Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. Despite the sunny locales and camaraderie, after a few years, Maas was ready for college. “I felt like I’d obtained enough tools in my personal toolbox to go back to school.”

Lucas Maas in the VRC
Lucas Maas '24 in the Veteran Resource Center.  Photography by Francis Tatem

When Maas left the Marines, he was living in Maryland, a newlywed, all set to start classes at the University of Maryland in Fall 2022. What happened next, he says, is a “great Saint Mary’s story.” His wife, anxious for a career shift, had enlisted in the Coast Guard, a decision that pulled them across the country to Alameda, California. By then, it was late June, far past most application dates, and Maas was scrambling to find a Bay Area college that would accept his transfer credits. He applied to Saint Mary’s and sent an email, not expecting much at this late date. 

To his surprise, he got in. The college provided him a Presidential Scholarship through the Yellow Ribbon program, a government initiative that offers financial assistance to veterans and military dependents applying to private or out-of-state schools. Maas sees this as one of the benefits of a small school; at a larger institution, his email may never have been read. 

But it was. “It’s been basically smooth sailing ever since then,” he says.

A Communications major, he’s aiming to become a teacher or start a nonprofit with his wife—“​​or probably both,” he says.

From Syria to Moraga

Mike Pineda '24, Navy veteran
Mike Pineda '24, Navy veteran   Courtesy Mike Pineda

Mike Pineda was a high school athlete, too. After graduating from Antioch High in 2008, he played rugby for UC Berkeley’s Golden Bears. A year in, though, he sustained an injury that put him out of commission. Hungry for direction, he joined the Navy, the first in his family to enlist. It did a number on his mother’s nerves, Pineda says. “She was, of course, really scared for me, because it was also at the height of anti-terrorism.”

Pineda’s basic training stints were in Great Lakes, Illinois (where the California native experienced subzero temperatures for the first time in his life) and Panama City, Florida. On his first tour, his unit was sent to Syria amidst the country’s devastating civil war. “That deployment was pretty bad,” he says. 

When he returned, he requested a job switch to GSM, or gas turbine mechanic. In 2014, he was deployed to Bahrain, where his unit conducted “piracy operations” off the coast of Africa and rescued Indonesian sailors stranded at sea. 

Like so many veterans, Pineda’s military experience took a heavy toll on him, mentally and emotionally. In the years following, he struggled to find a career that fit. “I bounced around a lot, from job to job.” Today, though, he’s a husband, father, and on track to graduate with a degree in Health Science and Psychology. 

He plans on becoming a radiologist for deeply personal reasons. “One of my friends who passed away in the Marines, he wanted to go back to school and do something in the medical field,” he says. “When I got out, I figured, why not go back to school, not just for myself but for him as well.”

In the Foxhole

Both Pineda and Maas believe their military training equipped them to be enthusiastic and engaged learners. “I know college is like usually where people try to figure out who they are,” Pineda says. “But for me, having kind of figured that out already, I’m able to be a leader in my classes, especially in discussions.”

Having been out into the wider world, Maas feels like he’s able to appreciate college in a way he couldn’t at eighteen. “There’s no other place in your life where you can share your voice the way you can in college. You’re not going to get it anywhere else.”

As transfer students who have spent time on campuses elsewhere, they’re also able to see opportunities for Saint Mary’s to grow. Maas has assisted the club Veterans and Military Affiliated Gaels in creating a stronger online presence and distributing a virtual newsletter. And Pineda, who is vice president of the club, has been pushing for better psychological and financial support for veteran students.

Mike Pineda's Navy unit
Mike Pineda's Navy unit   Courtesy Mike Pineda

It comes down to taking care of one another, Maas says. “In the metaphorical foxhole, what matters is the person to your left and to your right. There’s a responsibility that you feel to other veterans to make sure they’re succeeding here, and that they’re getting what they want.”

“There’s a responsibility that you feel to other veterans to make sure they’re succeeding here, and that they’re getting what they want.”

Veterans Day 2022 represents a milestone for Saint Mary’s veterans: the one-year anniversary of the Veteran Resource Center. But for Pineda and Maas, the holiday also encourages them to reflect—and connect.

“It’s a time to remember what I went through, appreciate the friends I still have, and make a tribute to the ones that I don't have anymore,” Pineda says. Every year, he meets up with friends he served with in the Navy. “We’re gonna have a drink for those on our last deployment who didn't make it thorough.”

For Maas, it’s a reminder to check in: “Veterans Day gives me a good weekend to reach out to a lot of my friends that I served with in the Marines. 

“Oh, and get a free meal at Applebee’s,” he adds.


Read more about the Veterans Resource Center and alum and veteran Brad Gibson.

Read “Honoring Our Veterans,” President Plumb’s message to the Saint Mary’s community.

Hayden Royster is a Staff Writer with Saint Mary's Office of Marketing and Communication. Write him.