A group at Penn State Wilkes-Barre is dedicated to supporting veterans and raising awareness of their service. The Veterans Support Club aims to unite student veterans and help them feel supported, while also supporting veterans in the community.
As president of the club and a Marine Corps veteran, Robert Mastropole is leading the charge to install a permanent memorial on campus. The memorial will pay homage to the millions of men and women who have served the United States: past, present and future.
“The club brings together veterans, members of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, members of the reserves and active duty military. We support them on campus and bring awareness to veterans’ issues. We also work to help veterans in the community,” Mastropole said.
Mastropole is from Mahopac, New York, outside New York City. He served in the United States Marine Corps for five years, attaining the rank of sergeant.
“When I enlisted, I was at a point in my life without options. The military built me up and supported me, and provided me with a way to go to college through the GI Bill,” he said. “It built a foundation for the rest of my life.”
During his time in the military, Mastropole was stationed in Hawaii and was deployed twice on non-combat missions. He spent time in Japan, South Korea and Australia, training with Australian forces.
“The military instilled in me the discipline and the drive to do better because so much is expected of you. I’ve transferred that to a college student setting. Always participate, do something, be a leader — and do what I can for the campus,” he said.
Now 27, Mastropole is a senior at Penn State Wilkes-Barre and resides in Harveys Lake. He is studying administration of justice with a minor in history and aspires to work with the Department of Homeland Security.
In the past, the Veterans Support Club has participated in Operation Gratitude, collecting items and sending care packages with hygiene items to troops stationed overseas. Members of the campus community also wrote letters of thanks and encouragement to send to deployed service members.
The club has met several times this semester to discuss ideas and has also participated in two events. One of them was a September 11 remembrance, where several veterans spoke about how they remember September 11, 2001, and how it affected them.
The second event was as part of a panel discussion during “Exploring Diversity through Life Experiences” held in late September. During the discussion, Mastropole and club treasurer Jacob Miller spoke about their military experiences and their times of being “other” in a foreign land.
“We discussed our different backgrounds and the value of embracing new cultures and stepping outside the northeastern Pennsylvania area of the United States,” Mastropole said. "We went to many other areas of the world and in my experience, being open to other outside cultures is highly beneficial.”
His time in the military took him to places such as Hawaii, Australia and South Korea, where a South Korean man approached him to share his story and thank him for being there.
Mastropole told the audience at the panel event how important it is to keep an open mind.
“By keeping an open mind, you’ll enjoy the experience a lot more and people will welcome you a lot better. You have to adapt and realize you’re the outsider,” he said. “It’s not all fun and there are issues. Some locals don’t take too kindly to military personnel and you’re not always welcomed. It’s important to be aware there is another side.”
Members of the club came up with the idea to place a memorial on campus that would honor veterans, particularly those who gave their lives in the name of freedom.
“It isn’t for the club specifically. It’s for all those who have served in the past, to honor those who fought and died and gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Mastropole said. “Part of the reason why we are free is because those men and women fought and died to pave that path.”
The memorial is proposed to be in the shape of a keystone and placed between the Murphy Student Services Center and the Nesbitt Academic Commons. It is currently in the design and approval stages.
“There is no larger impact than getting a memorial erected on campus,” Mastropole said. “We have a presence on the campus and a monument would be proof. Years down the line, it would still be shown that veterans have had an impact on this campus.”
In addition to his role with the Veterans Support Club, Mastropole is involved in other campus activities. He has served as president of Students for Justice for three years and is a senator for the Student Government Association. He is also chair of the Cafeteria Committee, serving as a liaison between students and management. As part of the committee, Mastropole helped lead an initiative to have vending machines installed on campus.
“These experiences help develop leadership and interpersonal skills by building connections with people. It incorporates the things I’ve done on campus with people into real-world experiences,” he said.
Members of the Veterans Support Club at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.