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ASU open houses lead vets to teaching careers

Russell Moss
October 31, 2014

They have different backgrounds and different military training, but both are American veterans and both are pursuing education careers as a way of continuing their service to their country.

Brian Bielinski and Russell Moss credit Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Pat Tillman Veterans Center at Arizona State University with changing veterans’ lives by helping them explore education degree options at annual open house events geared to them and their families.

This year, Veterans Open Houses are scheduled on two ASU campuses. On Nov. 4, ASU’s Polytechnic campus hosts veterans from 3 to 6 p.m. in Cooley Ballroom C. ASU’s West Campus welcomes veterans from 3 to 6 p.m., Nov. 6, in Delph Courtyard.

“They really make a great effort to answer our questions and make us feel comfortable,” said Moss, a former U.S. Army combat medic who has been deployed around the world. Last year’s open house led him to become a Teachers College graduate student earning his master’s degree in physical education.

“For a lot of us, when we leave the military it is hard to get back into civilian life. We have been either giving orders or taking orders for a long time, and now we need to do things on our own. ASU has made it easy to make that transition,” Moss added.

Many of the ASU students, alumni and faculty who assist veterans at the open houses are veterans themselves. A 2014 Teachers College graduate, Bielinski serves in the Arizona Army National Guard. His service has included working four years with the U.S. Border Patrol. He spoke with fellow veterans at the 2013 open house, and this fall, he was hired as a physical education teacher at Kyrene de las Brisas Elementary School in Chandler.

“I think we serve as role models; we show other vets it can be done,” Bielinski said. “When you add in your job or work, going back to college can seem overwhelming. But we can talk to fellow vets as someone who is going through it or has already done it, and that may be more relatable than talking with a civilian.”

Moss explained he went through serious “soul-searching” before deciding to leave the military. His training as a combat medic, recognized by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, combined with his experience as an Army instructor piqued his interest in becoming a physical education teacher and coach. He also wanted to spend more time with his wife Jessica, his sweetheart since the 8th grade, and their two children, Isabel and Rusty.

“My kids are the reason I left the service,” Moss said. “I was spending so much time away from home for various deployments and schools and training. My kids were getting into music and sports, and I was missing their recitals and games. I didn’t want to do that.”

At the 2013 open house, Moss said it was Connie Pangrazi, assistant dean of Teachers College, who walked him through how he could earn his master’s degree at ASU and become endorsed to teach physical education in grades K-12. Moss received his bachelor’s degree in applied science from Wayland Baptist University and was familiar with Pangrazi’s academic research in elementary physical education.

“Connie laid out all the pieces for me,” he said. “She told me when classes met and explained how the student teaching and internships work. I also could ask the veterans about the GI Bill and how they felt about the ASU program. They were in the same boat I was in, so it was nice to get their insights.”

Looking back, another ASU veteran said her Teachers College education equipped her well to teach social studies at Heard Elementary School in Phoenix. Melissa Boyd graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with an emphasis in history.

“As a veteran, I felt like Teachers College prepared me for a career in education by giving me the opportunity to work in the field under the guidance of certified teachers,” she recalled. “Working directly with these educators in action was incredibly similar to the on-the-job training that I received during my time in the military.”