Brett Surles

My name is Brett Surles, United States Marine Corps Veteran, with a chemical engineering degree. In 2008, I joined the United States Marine Corps, where I was lucky enough to serve with some of the greatest humans on Earth. Becoming a Marine was one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences of my life and I’m glad I didn’t settle for any other branch. After graduating from UF this year, I’m glad to announce I have accepted a manufacturing excellence job in chemical engineering, working for International Paper.

Because of the center, I have made lifelong connections with people who will always be meaningful in my life and career. At first, when I went to my first college, I did what I could to blend in with every other college student. I was only 23 years old so it wasn’t difficult. I would find myself holding back particular jokes or even making jokes no one understood, like calling someone a boot. It wasn’t the worst thing I could go through, but I still felt different, like I didn’t completely fit in. When I came to UF and was introduced to CVSC I immediately realized that horrifying, sometimes inappropriate, yet unique banter was something I missed. I was glad to find it at the center and it was just one small thing that helped my transition. I’ve met many friends who have helped me through college and I have received assistance with my success since being introduced to the center. I have gotten so much help with school work and getting referred to different kinds of resources on campus specific to me.

When I think about how the CVSC helped me with employment, I want to say it’s a 50/50 mixture. At first, entering college I felt like my resume was enough and being a Marine with proven leadership experience, I had a leg up on the traditional student. However, coming in to the Collegiate Veterans Success Center helped me learn that I was wrong. I may have had experience on my resume, but I still needed to pursue internships, research, and even extracurricular activities just like a traditional student. A friend I met at the center actually convinced me to attend the career showcase events where I got my internship offers and eventually a full time offer.

As an active member of the CVSC, I come almost every day. It has given me a place to study, a place to ask the tutors questions, a place to relax between classes with a competitive round of jeopardy. The CVSC allows me to print my group projects for class and engage in lively debates with other veterans in the center about the current political climate (or whatever the subject of the day happens to be). My college life has been made exponentially easier because of the existence of this center. Being around deadline-oriented people helped me stay on track and get assignments completed on time. It’s hard to procrastinate when you’re hanging out with your friends and they are all studying something, you feel obligated to get focused too.

One person who definitely helped with the transition was Charlotte Kemper. Charlotte has been there for me every step of the way since before I was even in Gainesville and she will continue to help me even after I leave. Coming to UF was made easier because she handled every bit of it. Once I was here, I realized what an amazing person she is. I would visit her office from time to time to ask questions regarding benefits, seek advice, ask for help, but often times I would find myself just talking with her. She is an extremely busy person, but still tries to keep her door open for all of the veterans on campus, not just me. She’s given me wonderful tough-love advice throughout my time at UF, and has become a true friend. Having a VetSuccess counselor readily available on campus may be one of the reasons I am even graduated. She has been so supportive of all of us and continues to go out of her way to show us her gratitude and appreciation. If all schools could have a campus counselor worth 10% of what Charlotte is to us, then I think the entire world of academia would be a better place.