There is a difference in knowing something and truly understanding it. From calculus to chemistry understanding complex equations can be challenging. Add in family and job responsibilities as experienced by many UNM student Veterans and it’s easy to understand why there might not be an educational endgame in sight. 

This is where some University of New Mexico student Veterans have a different experience. They attend the University with fellow Veteran Kevin McConnell—an engineering student who was recently recognized for tutoring fellow Veterans while finishing his Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.  

“I was in the Navy and I got to run nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers,” said McConnell. “I did that for six years and then came back to UNM to finish up my bachelor’s last year and then my masters this year.” 

As part of being a Lobo student Veteran, McConnell used the services of the University’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC).

“Every semester I go in there and I turn in a schedule so I can get certified through the VA for the benefits of the GI Bill,” said McConnell. “I guess it was three semesters go, I started tutoring for the VRC. I knew a bunch of other Veterans that could use a little help in calculus and physics and so I volunteered there.”

To honor McConnell, the VRC recently surprised the Navy Veteran during their Spring Graduation Ceremony with the first Outstanding Mentor of the Year Award. The Center mentioned McConnell’s consistent and unwavering support for fellow Veterans and how many Lobos credit their time with him as the reason they were able to get their degrees.

McConnell, who works for Sandia National Laboratories, plans on continuing to help students. 

“I see these Veterans who are coming back and are totally capable of doing anything and for whatever reason — I think a brand-new environment and everything else — they throw in the towel kind of early, especially with those math and science classes,” he said. “And so my hope is to continue to volunteer my time here and enhance the program so that Veterans can get over those initial hurdles and be successful in getting their degrees."