Student Veteran Brad Gibson: Ready to Serve

Linda Lenhoff

Saint Mary’s motto, Enter to learn, Leave to serve, attracted senior Mathematics and Computer Science major Brad Gibson to campus, but you could argue that Gibson is always ready to serve. The  Army veteran of five years has dedicated himself not only to his country, but also to his community of student veterans–by bringing their needs to the attention of administrators and faculty members. His efforts over several years have led to the creation of the Veterans Resource Center in Filippi Academic Hall, a welcoming gathering place for student veterans and their friends and allies. Thanks to Gibson, a community has been born.

When Gibson first considered attending Saint Mary’s, he heard Admissions counselor Craig Means use the SMC motto. “And then I was just hooked because if I can learn to be a civilian and serve—that’s really what I want to do, to serve my community and serve everybody around me.”

Gibson spent five years on active duty in the military, including a one year deployment to Afghanistan as a sniper. He deeply understands the help student veterans need to make the move to student life. “My transition from the military was rocky. College was on the back burner because of the disarray my life was in. I ended up starting at Napa Valley College, and they have a really strong veterans network. And that’s what made me start thinking more seriously about finishing my education.”

Perhaps Saint Mary’s was always in the back of Gibson’s mind. “My dad is a Saint Mary's grad. And so is my godfather, and he’s a Vietnam veteran. So there was kind of that. The small school really draws you, or draws our veterans.”

Gibson recognized a need among student veterans for additional support and for a tighter community. In response, he worked to create the VRC and the Veterans and Military Affiliated Gaels (VMAG). “We established three pillars that we essentially see needing improvement. There’s the social aspect, the general community of networking while we're here, and then career development, which I'm really passionate about.” Gibson often sends interview and hiring information to his fellow student veterans to help them transition to jobs after College. “You need to be ready for that next step. That’s something I feel like was desperately missing here in support.”

“Our goal is, along with faculty support, to build a network where veterans feel like their voice is heard; they have a space; they have information that is highly effective for them because of the way they get benefits. I’m trying to quantify our efforts because it’s been slightly fragmented. We’ve been working with the Veterans Committee that has convened at Saint Mary’s, and our goal as a student organization is to facilitate that kind of a social structure, community, as well as expanding on the network in general. And then the VRC space is really crucial from the students’ side.”

“Our end state goal is to have this be more of a departmental thing like the Intercultural Center which also started as a student organization. We hope to spread awareness and understanding [of student veterans], and eventually be an established organization that's not run by students volunteering.”

Along with putting together the VRC, and the Instagram and Slack channels that support his community, Gibson has kept busy in his time at Saint Mary’s. He’s worked as an associate data analyst part-time on campus in Career and Professional Development Services, and looks forward to his future career: “I would like to get into a technical role: software engineering, whether front-end, back-end, cybersecurity, data analytics, wherever I fit in.”

Professor of Math and Computer Science Jim Sauerberg commended Gibson for his work strengthening his community. “Most of our undergraduate students are 18 to 22 years old, often without a lot of time spent in the real world,” began Sauerberg. “I didn't really understand until talking to Brad just how challenging it was for our veterans to feel part of that community, nor the corresponding need for the veterans to have a space of their own, where they can be with others who share similar experiences."

"Brad has really been a key force in opening the VRC, and in forming the student group VMAG,” said Sauerberg. “Frankly, without his insistence I don’t believe it would have happened."

“While working through a very challenging major, Brad simultaneously recognized the lack of support--support he wished he would have had, and dedicated himself to seeing that it would be provided for future vets.”

Saint Mary’s thanks Gibson for his service to his country and his contributions to campus life.