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Meet Joel Gonzalez: Decorated student veteran paving a path to college success

Joe GOnzalez
Joel Gonzalez (far left), an undergraduate student and veteran liaison at DePaul, participates as a proffer during the United States Transportation Command change of command with former Secretary of Defense James Mattis (second from left), retired General and former Commander of USTRANSCOM Darren W. McDew (second from right), and current Commander of USTRANSCOM General Stephen R. Lyons (far right). (Image courtesy of Joel Gonzalez)
While some students attend college right after high school, there are others who take a different path. Joel Gonzalez, an undergraduate student now pursuing a major in business administration, decided he wasn't ready for college after high school. Instead, he left his family home when he was 19 to join the military. 
Joel Gonzalez
Joel Gonzalez earned several awards during his time in the military. (Image courtesy of Joel Gonzalez)

“I was very poor growing up and we were hungry all of the time. My parents didn't have an education themselves, so they encouraged me to get a job instead of looking to higher education," Gonzalez says. “I knew that was wrong, so I applied to schools anyways. Once I saw the tuition bill I freaked out a bit. I went straight to the Marine Corps office and joined."

Gonzalez began his military career in an administration role where he assisted peers with their travel arrangements for training and deployment. He worked his way up to the position as administrative chief when he was just a corporal, while other chiefs held titles at least two ranks higher.

“The other chiefs didn't take me seriously because of my rank. That was really tough, but I got through it and did a good job," he says. “I did so well I was selected to start a new high-level job as an administrative liaison at the United States Transportation Command."

During his time in the military, Gonzalez earned several awards, including two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Joint Service Achievement Medal and the Award of Excellence by the Navy League of the United States.

After eight years of success in the military, Gonzalez used his experience to apply and get admitted to DePaul University.

“My previous leadership roles in the military have helped prepare me for my academic career at DePaul," Gonzalez says. “Not only did I learn how to be independent, but I also have great business writing, research and public speaking skills."

When he applied to DePaul, the university was quick to accept Gonzalez within an hour of meeting with him.

“DePaul was the first school to accept me. I was really interested because the veteran community at DePaul is so huge," Gonzalez says. “It is important for colleges to take care of their veteran students, and I think DePaul has done a great job with this."

In addition to his classes, Gonzalez serves as a veteran liaison in DePaul's Adult, Veteran and Commuter Student Affairs.

“During Joel's interview to become one of our veteran liaisons, he talked about how important it was for him to continue to help the veteran community, and his passion for​ service-members was very clear," says Megan Giedraitis, the Director of AVCSA.

As their title may imply, veteran liaisons are DePaul students with prior military experience who can help other student veterans connect with various resources and benefits, as well as provide support, as they transition into academic life.

“We often don't feel comfortable sharing our experiences with people who don't have military experience. It can be hard for people without military experience to understand what we've been through," Gonzalez explains. “We need a community, which I'm happy to be part of at DePaul. I'm here for anyone who needs to talk, and it can be really fun."

Attending college right after high school isn't the best option for every student. For Gonzalez, waiting to enroll at a university allowed him to gain valuable life experience that shaped him into the man and student he is today.

To learn more about DePaul's Veteran Services, visit the Student Affairs website.

Join the Office of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday, May 26, on the Lincoln Park Campus or via Zoom for the 2021 Memorial Day Commemoration. RSVPs are required.