Like many 18-year-olds, Los Angeles native Mark Griego ’23 CpE lacked motivation and direction as a new college student. He confesses, “After getting off to a good start in the first semester, I just stopped trying.” With what he calls “no target and no aim,” he left school and found himself working in fast food restaurants and other unfulfilling jobs. It wasn’t until 2012, when his cousins encouraged him to consider the military, that Mark found the direction he was seeking. He joined the Marine Corps, earning an Associate of the Arts in Korean Language and Literature and serving as an Asia-Pacific cryptologic linguist. He eventually added signals operations to his skillset and ultimately became a cadre instructor where he was reminded that teaching—which had been a potential career goal in high school—was both rewarding and a great fit for him personally and professionally. He explains: “I implemented training schedules, taught the material and served as an advisor. I enjoyed learning to understand and reach different types of people. When my students ‘got it,’ it really motivated me. I liked that they understood and carried that knowledge on.” After serving in the Corps for five years, Mark moved to Pennsylvania where he made a brief stop at Montgomery County Community College before beginning his Villanova story.
As a student at MCCC, Mark met Michael Brown, a former U.S. Army Infantry soldier who served as the college’s coordinator of veteran services. Beyond their shared military roots, Mark and Brown had something else in common: a desire to be at Villanova. Mark completed his associate’s degree in computer science at MCCC and successfully transferred with the help of Brown who had been hired as Villanova’s first director of the Office of Veterans and Military Service Members. Today Mark is a full-time student in Computer Engineering, minoring in Computer Science, with an interest in artificial intelligence, data analytics and machine learning. His goal: Earn a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s, gain industry experience, earn a doctorate and pursue a teaching career in higher ed. Clearly, he no longer lacks motivation or direction.
When asked about Mark, Brown describes him as “a humble guy who seeks out challenges and leadership opportunities, and by his actions and words sets himself apart from other students.” He adds, “Mark is an example of what it means to be a great Villanovan and a great veteran.”
Q&A with Mark Griego
Q: How do you find the academic aspects of being a non-traditional student?
A: The workload is not an adjustment—I’m used to being pushed hard—but absorbing the information can be a challenge. When I was younger it was much easier. Now I have to go over everything two or three times. I can no longer get away with skimming.
Q: How do you relate to your classmates?
A: Working with students who are 10 years younger than me is certainly different. You don’t build the same friend base, but I try to ignore the age gap and reach out to connect with them. In fact, I wrote a blog post on this topic—"Embracing Campus Culture Beyond the Generational Gap”—for Next Step Inbound, an organization that helps veterans gain admission to college.
Q: How are you engaged with the veteran community?
A: At MCCC I was the chapter president for Student Veterans of America and I learned how to build relationships with vets to get them more involved on campus. Now I’m secretary of the Villanova chapter and I also serve as the University’s campus representative for Next Step Inbound, where I mentor veterans who are considering applying to Villanova. I’ve been in touch with a handful of prospective students though this organization and three of them are transferring here. I also try to connect with Villanova’s ROTC students.
Q: What else have you become involved with both on and off campus?
A: On campus I’ve joined the Amateur Radio Club led by Electrical and Computer Engineering’s Dr. Alan Johnston. It offers a connection to my SIGINT experience in the Marines. I’ve also moderated two panel discussions on transitioning high school students to college, presented by the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit and PA SEED (STEM Experiences for Equity and Diversity) Ecosystem.
Q: How have you personally seen the Nova Network in action?
A: An alumnus and former ROTC student, Ted Adair ’00 CLAS, is Director, Growth & Strategy | Defense at Guidehouse, a management consulting firm. Ted reached out to Mike Brown, specifically looking for a veteran for an internship position. We had a few conversations and he offered me the position in which I’m learning about AI in the defense industry.
Q: Why would you recommend Villanova University to a fellow veteran?
A: The transition from the military to Villanova is seamless. Caritas (love) and a commitment to community is very apparent here. Everyone you meet will be happy to help you or point you in the right direction. It’s just like in the military where you can go anywhere on base and find someone who will help you. I’ve been embraced on campus. People are excited for me to be here, from University President Fr. Peter on down. Just like you never leave a Marine behind, you never leave a Villanovan behind.