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Serving our country and our university

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Serving in a branch of the U.S. armed forces is a life-changing experience, one that veterans carry with them every day. The veterans who serve UC bring inspiring stories of personal and community uplift, skills and values honed through diverse experiences, and a commitment to lives of service.

Lifting as they climb

Dano Pagenkopf served in the Navy for six years, including two tours in the Persian Gulf. After earning expert marksman medals in rifle and pistol, he joined the .50-caliber machine gun teams for general quarters and eventually became mount captain. As a machinist mate nuclear-qualified operator, he supervised the operation of a nuclear reactor onboard the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.  

Navy Veteran Dano Pagenkopf

Navy veteran Dano Pagenkopf, UC Santa Barbara

Today, Dano is a principal research and development engineer at UC Santa Barbara — a long way from his Idahoan roots. “I grew up with limited means, and the Navy gave me a broader outlook on the world. I was first in my family to attend college. The military helped me understand the importance of earning a degree and instilled the discipline required to achieve it. I learned to treat everyone with respect, to not give up in the face of adversity, and to continue learning,” he says. 

Like Dano, Director of the Veteran Services Center at UC Irvine Dani Molina benefitted from the opportunity to afford college with support from the GI Bill, which provides educational assistance to servicemembers, veterans and their dependents.

Army veteran Dani Molina

Army veteran Dani Molina, UC Irvine

“As the son of Mexican-immigrant parents, I believed in giving back to my country for the opportunities it gave my family that we would not have had abroad,” Dani says. “Moreover, I did not have many opportunities to improve my life circumstances growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I knew the Army would make it possible to attend college while gaining vital leadership and team-building skills. Enlisting was a great choice for improving my social mobility and professional growth. I still leverage what I learned during my service today, and I would enlist again without reservation.”

Exemplifying excellence and teamwork

Colleagues who hail from a military background know the importance of high-quality work and how the support of a team is essential for resolving problems and making a difference.

“I had the opportunity to serve this great nation as an enlisted Marine and as a Marine Corps officer during my military career, says Anthony Rodelo, a registered nurse who manages the Preceptor Program and Quality Orientation Day at UC San Diego Health. “Serving in the Armed Forces impacts how I work every day by being professional, punctual, proactive and positive — attributes my gunnery sergeant instilled in me early in my Marine Corps career.”

Anthony Rodelo with his family
Anthony Rodelo with his wife, who he met at UC San Diego, and children, who he welcomed at UC San Diego

Eleise L. Kinch is an Air Force veteran and business services analyst at the California Primate Center. She says, “The most important skill we learned while serving our country is that the surest way to get yourself into trouble is to cut corners — especially on the battlefield. The military taught me that excellence is a habit and a necessity. You learn to be outstanding by doing the same things well, day in and day out. 

“No matter how hard you work or how lazy you are, the results are what matter. A military operation with a setback that is overcome is always considered a success. The same is true in the workplace. If you have a problem, you need to work through it and not get hung up on the setback. The result is what matters, and if that result is positive, it’s something to celebrate.” 

Eleise L. Kinch and her father
Archival photos of Eleise Kinch (UC Davis) and her father, William Kihn, taken when they were each 20 years old. Father and daughter served in the U.S. Air Force 30 years apart.

Dani commends colleague Simón Londoño, assistant director of the UC Irvine Veteran Services Center, a Navy veteran and UCLA alumnus, for his efforts on behalf of campus veterans. “Simón has paired his military training and higher education experience to make a direct and positive impact on how we certify and serve UC Irvine military-connected students. He sets a high bar of excellence to train his team and ensure that processes are improved, increasingly efficient and secure. The past two years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been stifling for our military-connected students without Simón’s contributions. His advocacy and dedication are in keeping with UC Irvine’s highest standards and overall strategic mission.”

Whether on an actual battlefield or the “battleground” of an office or medical facility, UC’s veterans rely on their colleagues and the value they bring to every situation. “What was most meaningful to me during my time in the military were the service members to my left and right, as well as those non-service members who supported us,” says Anthony.

Dani says, “Teamwork, attention to detail, respect and integrity in everything we do are a few of the skillsets and values we leverage to ensure our military-connected students receive their earned VA education benefits. We ensure that everyone is trained and proficient in their roles and that we work as a team to respond to issues before they become larger problems. It is all about being proactive and communicating.” 

“[In the military], your main function is to work with your team to collectively be the best you can be. That means you are only as strong as your weakest link. All of my teammates’ mistakes were my mistakes, and their successes were my successes,” says Eleise. 

Navy veteran Matthew Linzer, UC Office of the President
Navy veteran Matthew Linzer, UC Office of the President

“I am proud and honored to have served alongside a diverse corps of great women and men,” says Information Security Manager Matthew Linzer, a Navy veteran who works at the UC Office of the President. He adds, “I want everyone to understand there are conflicts right now where our military personnel are in harm’s way. I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on the past and present contributions our veterans have made, and continue to make, and not to forget them, as they don’t forget about us.”

Lives of service

Those who join the armed forces have one thing in common: They have chosen a life of service. This desire to give back and to protect and uplift others is often a key motivator in their lives outside the military. 

Matthew shares, “The military’s core values closely align with UC’s Principles of Community, and are why serving was meaningful to me. The university is a great example of what is good in America. If you believe in the mission as I do, it’s hard not to be passionate about work.”

Ernesto Carrasco, director of governance, risk and compliance at UCLA, agrees. “Serving in the military and working for an organization like UCLA gives me a connection and attachment to the world. I have always sought to be part of something larger than myself,” he says. Ernesto served in the Army airborne infantry division. 

Army veteran Ernesto Carrasco (UCLA)
Army veteran Ernesto Carrasco, UCLA

Dani says, “I work with a team of professionals whose sole mission is to give back to those who have sacrificed so much for our nation. We are having a positive impact on the lives of the military-connected students we support.”  

At UC San Diego, Cybersecurity Awareness Program Coordinator Ronise C. Zenon credits her colleagues, Chief Privacy Officer Pegah K. Parsi and Enterprise Network Operations Manager James Seddon, for their ongoing commitment to social causes related to their service. “Their participation in and dedication to the Afghan evacuation after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 is a true testament to the ‘never leave a person behind’ adage and their strong integrity. They have each used their networks to raise money, share stories of Afghans in need and encourage others to aid the cause through their passion,” Ronise says.

Army veteran Pegah K. Parsi (UC San Diego)
Army veteran Pegah K. Parsi, UC San Diego

Pegah highly praises James’ efforts in this area. She explains, “James has worked diligently to bring our Afghan allies, interpreters, drivers and friends — people at critical risk under Taliban rule — to safety. He has been active in this effort from the beginning, speaking eloquently with the media to raise awareness locally and online. He has raised more than $7,800 and spent his own money to sponsor an Afghan colleague and his family, procuring legal and immigration services, safe transportation and living expenses.

“James also volunteers with the #AfghanEvac Coalition, a self-organized group of veterans, frontline civilians, resettlement agencies and Afghans working to provide end-to-end support for at-risk Afghans. He is on the leadership team, assists with communications and media outreach and shares his knowledge and expertise. He is a moral compass, and the coalition is honored to work with him to address this grave injustice.”

And, Pegah shares, “James does all of this while being a fantastic supporter of our veterans on campus. As treasurer of the UC San Diego Veteran Staff Association, he has been an integral and consistent part of the VSA, contributing freely and with compassion and care. He takes time to bring those who don’t necessarily relate to the ‘veteran’ label into the fold and makes them feel welcome.”

In turn, James explains that Pegah also plays a vital role in the #AfghanEvac Coalition by serving as its chief privacy officer. “There are plenty of bad actors out there hoping to take advantage of Afghans’ desperate situation, so her work is critically important.”

Army veteran James Seddon (UC San Diego) poses with a child on one of his tours in Afghanistan
Army veteran James Seddon (UC San Diego) poses with a child on one of his tours in Afghanistan

Resources for veterans

Thank you to all our UC colleagues and students who have served our country! UC has a variety of resources available for veterans. To learn more, get started here.


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