A Journey Through the Veterans Resource Center with Ben Pierce

If there was one word Ben Pierce would use to describe the Veterans Resource Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato it would be “fantastic.”  

Located in room 167 of the Centennial Student Union, the Veterans Resource Center provides a safe space where students from all backgrounds can come together, make friends, share stories, and become a part of the Maverick community.

Pierce is not the same as many traditional students. He joined the United States Marine Corps right out of high school at the age of 19. After nine years of service, his plan was to move out of Minnesota with his wife and attend college in Arizona.

Unfortunately, five months before the beginning of fall semester, tragedy struck. Pierce’s six-month-old son Aiden (pictured above with Pierce) was diagnosed with cancer. In need of some extra support from his friends and family, Pierce and his wife decided to move back to Minnesota. “Thankfully, we caught the tumor super early, the surgery went well, and he’s been cancer free now for two and a half years,” he said.  

With a happy and healthy three-year-old and the support of his friends and family, 27-year-old Pierce decided it was time to take his career to the next step by earning his bachelor’s degree in law enforcement at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  

“I remember when I first got here, the Social and Behavioral Science departments were doing a little luncheon where students could go meet the faculty and get to know other students. I decided to go and was approached by the dean of SBS, Matthew Loayza, and Paul Mackie, who is a professor of Social Work,” said Pierce. “After having a conversation with them and them realizing that I was a veteran, Paul Mackie took me down to the Vet Center right away, and it’s just been a place I’ve spent time at ever since.”

“A lot of veteran students are in some way struggling with their identities when they leave the military and transition into being a civilian,” Pierce adds. “For nine years, all I knew was the Marine Corps and how to be a Marine.”

Pierce acknowledges that coming back to school has been challenging—but the Veterans Resource Center has been critical in helping him succeed.

“Having that community helps you bridge that gap and helps you understand like yes, it’s okay,” he says. “To be a veteran is not weird, nor is it scary. There are people who will help you out, and there are a lot of opportunities to build that community with other veterans and to get the support that is needed.”

One of his favorite things is that the Veterans Resource Center works to incorporate nonmilitary-affiliated students into activities.

“Which is great, because it is important to bridge that gap between military and civilian,” Pierce stated.  

The Veterans Resource Center offers a wide variety of activities that are available for all students, such as the co-ed veterans softball team and movie nights twice a month. “It’s just a wonderful time getting to play and compete but also show that we are just like everybody else,” says Pierce.  

The Veterans Resource Center understands that this transition can be challenging for most if not all students. Having a safe space for veterans like Pierce to be vulnerable and allowing them to engage in each other's experiences promote diversity, inclusion, and academic success in the Maverick community.

This year, Pierce led the co-ed veteran's softball team to the championship game, organized movie night and brought his son to march in the homecoming parade with other veteran students. With the support of his friends, family and the Veterans Center, Pierce will graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato this fall with his bachelor’s in law enforcement.

“My time here as a student would have been a lot more challenging without the veterans center,” he says. “You need some sort of social life and some sort of community to help balance out the demands of being a student.”