UCR Grad Tan Mai Named 64th District’s 2012 Veteran of the Year

SoBA graduate hailed for his efforts as a soldier and a student

student graduation with chancellor

Tan Mai celebrates with Chancellor Timothy P. White during the School of Business Administration Commencement ceremony on June 15, 2012. Photo by Peter Phun.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Throughout his life, Tan Mai has worked to help others. As a member of the United States Marine Corps, he fought for the freedom of the Iraqi people, and as a student at the University of California, Riverside, he worked to help his fellow veterans acclimate to civilian life while he fulfilled his personal dream of earning a college degree.

And on June 27, 2012, Mai was rewarded for his efforts, both as a soldier and a civilian, when he was recognized as the 64th Assembly District’s 2012 Veteran of the Year at the Fifth Annual California State Assembly Veteran of the Year Luncheon at the Sacramento Convention Center. Mai received the honor from Assemblyman Brian Nestande of Palm Desert.

“I would like to commend Tan for the selfless contributions he has made for our country.” Nestande said in a press release. “He is an inspiration to all Californians and embodies the ideals of this wonderful event.”

Mai participated in the UCR School of Business Administration’s commencement ceremonies on June 15, receiving his degree in business administration with a concentration in finance. It marked the completion of a goal that he had set for himself while in the Marine Corps.

“It was the dream of a lifetime,” Mai said of his earning a degree. “While I was in the Marine Corps I made it a goal to attend and graduate from a UC. It took me about seven years to do it, but I finally did it.”

Mai enlisted in the Marines in 2001, immediately after graduating from high school. After boot camp he was stationed in Twentynine Palms with 3rd Battalion 4th Marines and was deployed three times as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He eventually reached the rank of sergeant and received his honorable discharge in 2005. He immediately enrolled at De Anza Junior College, then transferred to UCR in 2009.

Mai said that the transition to civilian life was a challenge, but that it inspired him to reach out and help his fellow veterans. In 2010 he joined the Veteran’s Peer Mentor program at UCR, which helps veterans make a successful transition to university life, educates the campus community on veteran’s issues, and provides programs for veterans and service men and women.

“Tan was instrumental in the renaissance of our student veteran organization,” Student Special Services Director Lenita Kellstrand said.

“I just wanted to give back to my community and fulfill the Marine Corps ethos. A lot of the vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering from physical and psychological problems, and a lot of vets don’t really speak up,” he said. “I wanted to help out other vets to make their path a little less challenging. There is camaraderie between people who served in the military, and as a peer mentor I felt that camaraderie.”

Mai said he suffered from both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and ADHD, but he didn’t let them stop him from taking full advantage of the University of California experience. In fact, in the Spring of 2011, he participated in the UCDC Program where he worked as an intern in the Washington, D.C. offices of Congressman Jerry McNerney.

“Tan had to work hard to overcome some pretty tough challenges. He’s been through a lot, and he understands what other veterans are dealing with too,” said Chryssa Jones, veteran services coordinator at UCR. “He was voted most inspirational peer by his fellow peer mentors because they recognize how hard he’s worked, and they admire him for that.”

“He has always been very generous in assisting his fellow students – veterans and others,” Kellstrand agreed.

Mai, who is now working at the Naval Surface Warfare Station as a purchasing agent, said he will continue to work with student veterans as they transition to their post-college lives. He encourages civilians to reach out to veterans and service members, to talk with them about their experiences and thank them for their service.

“It was gratifying for me when people acknowledged my service,” he said. “It made me feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ inside.”

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