MALVERN, Pa. — Before the football game on Saturday, Nov. 5, Penn State Great Valley students Carolina Aceto and Tahseen Firoz walked onto the field at Beaver Stadium to be recognized for their service in the Marine Corps. Donning Military Appreciation Day T-shirts, they joined Penn State veterans from all branches of the United States military in holding a giant American flag across the end zone as the opening bars of the national anthem rang out.
At age 18, Aceto wanted to join the military. Having recently moved to Philadelphia from Colombia, she felt compelled to serve her new country and help others around the world. Setting her sights on the Navy, she planned a visit to the local recruiting office. When she arrived, she was disappointed to find the center was closed. But the neighboring Marine office was open — and after conversing with a recruiter, she knew the Marines were the right fit. She enlisted immediately.
Aceto started boot camp in October 2003. Although an injury the following year prevented her from furthering her military career, she was determined to continue her involvement. After graduating from Temple University with a degree in finance and international business, she took a job with the Veterans Affairs office in Philadelphia.
“As a veteran myself, I take pride in what I do and want to make sure I give back to those who have sacrificed so much,” she said.
Since starting in 2009, Aceto has moved up the career ladder at the VA office and was recently promoted to assistant coach. Overseeing a team of people, her goal is to help as many veterans as possible to receive timely and accurate benefits with the VA’s available resources.
“Even though my experience in the Marines was short, I give a lot of credit to what the Marines taught me and where I am now in my career. Leading by example, teamwork, and the Marines’ core values of honor, courage and commitment guide many of my decisions at work and in my personal life,” Aceto said.
She decided to enroll in Penn State Great Valley’s Master of Leadership Development program because she wanted to make a difference at her workplace and motivate others. Having married into a large family of Penn Staters, Aceto felt at home in the community. Great Valley’s flexible pacing is a huge asset to her — in addition to working in Philadelphia and being a part-time student, she’s also a mom to a 4-year-old son.
Inspired by the events of 9/11, Firoz joined the Marine Corps in 2008. Taking a break from his undergraduate studies, he served at Camp Pendleton in California as an aviation supply specialist. In 2010, he was deployed to Afghanistan. Firoz spent a total of seven months in the Helmand Province and Kandahar Airfield.
“I enjoyed serving my country in Afghanistan and am grateful for my experience,” said Firoz. “Being deployed made me appreciate the little things I often took for granted in the United States."
Upon returning home, Firoz enrolled as an undergraduate student at Penn State Brandywine. While taking a business course, he encountered Great Valley professor Cyndy Walton while she taught a semester for another instructor. She encouraged him to consider a master’s degree, and Firoz enrolled in Great Valley’s MBA program shortly after graduating in 2015. Balancing his career and studies, Firoz has quickly progressed through his courses and will complete the program in the spring.
“Penn State Great Valley’s MBA program gives me a competitive advantage both in the military and in my career,” he said.
From appearances at Phillies and Eagles games, to public speaking engagements at local high schools, to leadership roles with local Toys for Tots drives, Firoz’s service has provided opportunities to become involved with the local community. He re-enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 2015 and hopes to make it his career. He is currently serving in Naval Supply Systems Command Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS) in Philadelphia.
While Great Valley’s student body is diverse — including many working professionals and international students — Aceto and Firoz’s background with the Marines provides a different perspective.
“I’m so pleased to have veteran and military students as part of the Great Valley community, not only for the service they have provided, but also for the rich experience they bring to the classroom that is a benefit to all of our students,” said Penn State Great Valley Chancellor James Nemes.
When the national anthem ended, Aceto and Firoz joined their friends and family in the stands to watch Penn State win against Iowa.
“It was such an amazing experience to be on the field with the players — in one of the largest stadiums in the nation — looking at all the students and fans from a different angle,” said Aceto.