U.S. Marine Veteran given chance to pursue academic dreams, continues to give back around the world

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For veterans returning home after serving our country, finding a job can be tough, especially without the right education.
PIX11 wants to help ease the struggle of transitioning vets seeking higher education and has partnered with the Veterans Education Challenge (VEC), an organization dedicated to sending  U.S. military vets to college.  It provides them with needed scholarships that the GI bill does not cover.

We share the story of one of our nation’s Veterans who is taking advantage of the educational opportunity given to him through the bill.

Life changing is how Matt Mainzer, a U.S. Marine, describes his five years serving our country.

“I did mature a lot, I've come a long way," Mainzer said. "Most importantly, I met a lot of people I never would have met, and I went to places like Afghanistan. It really changed me, being exposed to abject poverty like that,” said the 27-year old who grew up on Long Island.

Matt Mainzer while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps

Matt Mainzer while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps

He was deployed twice to Afghanistan. His mission was to gather intelligence, and brief infantry and reconnaissance units. After saying goodbye to Camp Pendleton in California, Mainzer embarked on a month-long road trip, before returning home for good in the fall of 2013.

“It was freeing, liberating and it was exciting to think of all the possibilities,” he remembered. “ I was excited about the opportunities, like going to school.

Mainzer chose veteran-friendly Pace University as the place that would put him on the right path to reaching his goals.  He’s considering going to graduate school to study international relations, with hopes of one day working for the State Department.

"Here at PACE we're invested in that not only Veterans transition from combat to classroom seamlessly but equally as important that they transition from the classroom to their respective meaningful careers, " Rob Rahni, Assistant Director of Veteran Affairs at Pace University, explained.

The second semester junior has full coverage under the post-9/11 GI bill.  It includes Pace’s unlimited Yellow Ribbon Program which pays his entire tuition and fees.  And he’s taking full advantage of this opportunity, by pursuing a BA in Economics and Political Science

And when I asked him about the 2016 Presidential Race?

"I'd rather not comment," Mainzer smiled.

What Mainzer does like to talk about is his passion for helping people in need.  Last summer, through an organization called 'All Hands', he joined in the effort to build temporary schools  in Nepal following a devastating earthquake.

Matt Mainzer volunteering with 'All Hands' in Nepal

Matt Mainzer volunteering with 'All Hands' in Nepal

"[That experience] was amazing!" he said. "It felt great to help out the people there, I think everyone should want to give back.”

While Mainzer qualifies for full tuition through the GI Bill and Pace University, not all veterans get that chance. So VEC founders, Avis and Bruce Richards, started the "Veterans Education $1 Million Matching Challenge" to help fund higher education for returning veterans.  Every dollar donated between Veterans Day 2015 and Veterans Day 2016 will be matched  dollar-for-dollar by the Richards up to one million dollars. Efforts to help these financially-strapped veterans are also being made by institutions like PACE University in Manhattan.  There are more than 300 veterans enrolled there this semester.

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