Like so many Americans, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, deeply affected Russel Melville ’11 and awakened a desire to give back to his country. Although he was employed at the time by the Associated Press, Melville says he felt a strong need to do something as a citizen. He enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan.
That choice changed the course of Melville’s life, leading him to an eight-year military career in which he rose to the rank of staff sergeant. On his return to civilian life, Melville knew he wanted to finish his college degree.
“The College of Continuing Studies offered a very unique program,” he said. “I chose to complete my bachelor’s degree here because Rider greatly exceeded what was being offered to veterans at other institutions.”
Two years after his graduation in 2011, Melville’s path led him back to Rider once again, when he was hired as the University’s coordinator of Veterans Affairs, a role he approaches with the tenacity of a drill sergeant, combined with the compassion of a fellow soldier who knows what it means to be there for a comrade.
“The Army taught me to look out for the person next to me at all times,” Melville said. “As a soldier, when you have something that’s too heavy to carry, there’s always someone there to help you. I want to be that person at Rider for our veteran students. Whether it be challenges with admission, financial aid, housing or other issues, I want to assist in resolving problems for veterans on campus.”
Another lesson learned from the military: For every problem there are two solutions. “These are important words I say to my students. They should never give up. If you think you’ve given enough and are ready to quit, dig deeper.”
Ultimately, Melville’s goal in his new role is to create a model veterans program for other universities and colleges to emulate. “I want to be an approachable liaison between the University and student veterans. I want to encourage more participation of veterans on campus,” he said.
One of the first steps to achieving that goal came this past Veterans’ Day when Melville and members of the Rider University Veterans Association created a moving, commanding tribute to fallen soldiers of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, by placing 6,759 American flags in meticulous rows along the campus mall – one for each soldier lost since Sept. 11. The tribute garnered positive attention from students, faculty, staff and the media for its visual and powerful reminder of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
“College can be challenging for veterans,” Melville said. “But if you’re willing to make the sacrifice, you’ll get the reward.”