New Assistant Director of the Military and Veterans Success Center Reflects on Service and Giving Back to Veteran Community

New assistant director of the Military and Veterans Success Center Wayne Taylor served 20 years in the Army.

(May 22, 2020) – Home life wasn’t always easy for Wayne Taylor growing up. As a child in a single-parent household in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Taylor faced food, financial and housing insecurities. Nonetheless, the New England upbringing meant Taylor was surrounded by the history of the American Revolution, which imbued him with a sense of gratitude for the nation in which he was born. “We’re so fortunate to have all these freedoms in our country,” Taylor said. 

As new assistant director of the Military and Veterans Success Center at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, Taylor hopes to help support the veterans and military families who’ve made that freedom possible.

Taylor spent 20 years in the United States Army, which he joined as an Infantryman immediately after high school. He served a number of assignments both domestically and internationally before changing military occupations to a Counterintelligence Special Agent. Taylor would eventually transition from Sergeant First Class to the Warrant Officer Corps, where he served as a Human Intelligence Officer and Counterintelligence Officer before retiring out of MacDill Air Force Base as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 in 2012. He joined the university in April and is currently working on a doctoral degree in Program Development: Education Innovation at USF.

We spoke to Taylor about his motivations for joining USF’s St Petersburg campus and how he plans to serve veteran students and military families in his new role. This interview has been edited for length.

What brought you to USF St. Petersburg?

After I retired from the military in 2012, I went to work for a small defense contracting company. It wasn’t until about five or six years later that I started feeling this downward spiral and realized I wasn’t fulfilling some type of higher purpose. So, even though making money is great, I had to do something more. Giving back to our veteran community was really where I found that I could actually do something. When the opportunity arose to apply for the position with USF’s St. Petersburg campus, it was a natural fit.

You began your position in early April, just after the lockdown started. What has your experience been like adjusting to this new role in such unusual circumstances?

The whole dynamic has been different but it’s actually been an amazing experience. Normally, I’d walk into a room, sit at a table, get introduced to everyone and try to remember everyone’s names. With these virtual meetings, I’m getting one-on-one time with everyone across the campus. I get the chance to actually meet someone, put a face to the name, see if we have something in common and build a little bit of rapport. So it’s worked out differently but I like it.

Part of your new role involves supporting veterans and military families on our campus. How can universities across the country do better in supporting veterans?

Veteran students are an underrepresented community on college campuses. But at the same time, we’re your next-door neighbor or the person in the line behind you at the grocery store. Sometimes, veteran students are a bit older than your average student and carry a little more life experience, but everyone brings varying experiences to campus life. The biggest challenge that I see is that since 9/11, a stigma has been placed on many veterans suggesting they’re all broken because of having post traumatic stress. That stigmatization is a challenge.

What skills do veterans possess that might benefit them in academia? 

Their ability to adapt. Adaptability is key in the military. Veterans have to deal with the idea that change is constant—it’s always going to happen. So, veteran students are very capable of adapting to situations at universities, whether it be transitioning to remote lectures or just engaging with other students from other nationalities.They have that experience to adapt.

What are some of the most important things you learned in the service that you’ll apply to your role as Assistant Director of the Military and Veterans Success Center?

Leadership, which is really about selfless service, as well as taking care of others and recognizing that every person has a voice. Whether it be a veteran student, a student who’s part of a military family, or one who is not, they all have something unique that they bring. They all want to listen and be listened to, so it’s making time and being able to be there for them.

From your current perspective, what does USF’s St. Petersburg campus do right when it comes to supporting veterans?

The inclusiveness. This campus is truly an inclusive community. Talking to some of my peers at other colleges, that’s not always the case. And one thing that we’ve been working on bringing to the St. Pete this fall is the Got Your 6 program, which has been rolled out on the Tampa campus. Got Your 6 is about helping faculty and staff understand the military mindset. When a veteran student sees a sticker on an office door saying, “I’ve got your six,” they’ll know that the faculty or staff member understands where they come from and will have their back. 

What are you most enthusiastic about for this role?

The biggest thing that brought me here was purpose. A lot of times, when our veterans leave the military, they haven’t specified a purpose in life. Some say, “I’m gonna go make money or I want to go get a degree.” But why? What is it you’re hoping to do? Helping veteran students and members of military families discover their purpose, that’s what I’m most excited about. I can’t wait to work with our student population to help them get there.