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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

Former Infantryman Leads Student Organization to National Award

Former Infantryman Leads Student Organization to National Award

Special to the HHES

A&M-Central Texas graduate student, Aaron Mandzak, 36, doesn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a university student. Not by a long shot.

He wouldn’t dream of skipping a class to sleep late, and he willingly accepts the voluntary responsibilities of leadership, even though these days, the definition of “active duty” is more about being a long distance husband and full-time father than the drill sergeant he used to be.

Madzak is married to Garrison First Sergeant, Rachel Mandzak, 32, stationed for the past two years in Fort Carson, Colorado. But this two tour Iraqi veteran takes it all in stride, acknowledging that their four children – twin boys, 12 year old, Damien and Gabriel, 8 year old Issac, and 5 year old Eryn – are more than enough to keep him busy.

“Military families make sacrifices all the time. It’s been quite a task, keeping all the balls in the air, but we make it work” he admitted. “I have a new-found respect for all single parents.”

Mandzak received his undergraduate degree in psychology from A&M-Central Texas and immediately applied for admission into the graduate program in counseling with the hopes of becoming a licensed professional counselor.

But it hasn’t been easy, balancing the demands of a rigorous program and everything that goes with being both mom and dad to four children.

“It’s never an easy thing to leave them, ever,” he said calmly. “When I had to attend an evening class that was convenient for most people, I had to look high and low for someone who could provide day care for the youngest ones at night. That requires more effort and a little bit more planning, but it’s worth it.”

When he isn’t tending to the kids, their homework or his own, Mandzak can be found in the office of student engagement at A&M-Central Texas, where he also serves as the chapter president of the National Society for Leadership and Success which has just been recognized as 2016-17 Distinguished Chapter of the Year.

With more than 500 chapters across the country and more than 600,000 student members, the NSLS award is an extremely competitive distinction.

But Mandzak defers the praise, pointing to more than 1,100 A&M-Central Texas students as current or former members and an active executive board responsible for implementing more than 70 events annually, as part of the reason for their success.

“We want to demonstrate our commitment to leadership by doing things that matter,” he said. “We aren’t in this for ourselves. We want to be of service to the community.”

Last year, chapter members placed wreaths on the graves at the Veteran’s Cemetery during the holidays, sponsored the clean up of a local park, and raised money for the Killeen Free Clinic in cooperation with the student government.

Associate Dean of Students, Paul York, is justifiably proud of the students he works with, acknowledging their commitment to the University.

“A&M-Central Texas students are different,” he says. “And that’s fine with us because we are a different kind of university. Our students are older than traditional university students.

“They’ve had life experience and career responsibilities, and they bring that to their educational journey. They have families. They know who they are and where they’re going. They’re not looking for inspiration; they are the inspiration.”

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