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Commencement Close-up: Sixty-year-old retired Army medic Sandy Green earns bachelor's degree and aims to help disadvantaged kids

Sandy Green

Sandy Green (right) with Dyna Jones, his UTSA student teaching supervisor at the recent College of Education and human development teacher induction ceremony on the Main Campus

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(Dec. 19, 2012) -- Sandy Green still recalls how his teachers told him that education just wasn't his strength. They suggested he work in the steel industry like many other African Americans did in Pennsylvania in the 1960s.

"I just got used to the idea that I wasn't very smart," the 60-year-old said. But this Thursday, Green will graduate from UTSA with his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary learning.

Although he had a strong academic start in his segregated all-black school in Virginia, the loss of his mother and his subsequent move to live with his aunt when he was 10 took its toll on his grades. In 1970, by the time he turned 17, he dropped out of school to enter the Army.

The military gave him a chance to pursue a career helping people, something that he really enjoyed. "It was happenstance that I became a medic," he said. "I didn't know much about it, but, it was something that kind of suited me. I loved the service. I liked being around people."

Green served as a combat field medic in New Jersey from 1970 to 1973, then another three-year stint as a medic from 1973 to 1976 in Tacoma, Wash., and in Germany.

In 1976, during a four-month break from the Army, he encountered a life-changing experience. While driving down a Virginia road, he fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, he was jolted awake by rocks in the highway median.

"That scared me. I knew I needed to change things. I needed to do something with my life," Green said.

So, he decided to re-enter the Army permanently, albeit in a new role. He returned as a psychological technician.

"I wanted to work with mental patients," he recalled. "Medical ailments are easy to treat; you can see them. But when somebody has a mental ailment, it's hard to see. There are situations going on that are chemical or physical -- situations beyond their reach. I wanted to assist people. This is a segment of our society that gets overlooked."

Until his retirement from the Army in 1991, Green served in Philadelphia, Korea and New Jersey. Ultimately, he retired at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Upon retirement, he enrolled in community college as a pre-nursing student. The single father took classes full time while attending to the needs of his three boys and working as an educational aide at Estrada Achievement Center in the San Antonio ISD. The school serves youth with special needs, offering counseling, chemical dependency treatment and other support services.

Frequently, Green would be assigned to the alternative class, a group of students that many substitute teachers found difficult to handle. He caught the eye of then principal Sharon Callihan, who recommended that he pursue a second career in teaching.

"I remember asking her why would I want to teach -- these kids are a pain," he said. "And, she told me, 'Because you need each other. The kids need someone who cares for them and someone who believes in them.'"

In 1997, Green began taking education classes part time at UTSA. A few years later, a VA counselor contacted him to say he would no longer be eligible for benefits. So, he dropped out.

In 2008, however, the VA contacted him to say that it had made a mistake. It wanted to reinstate his eligibility and encouraged him to return to UTSA. Green, in his 50s, flat out rejected the possibility. The VA counselor, however, was very persistent. She sent him emails and letters. She called him incessantly. Eventually, he broke down and scheduled an appointment with her.

"She told me that I owed it to myself and to my sons to finish my degree," he said. Those sons are now ages 31, 30, 28 and 7.

So, he returned. And in the process, he became interested in reading.

"Reading is something that kids with special needs have trouble with, but reading connects us with everything," Green said. "They say that initially, you learn to read. After that, you read to learn."

This Thursday, as Green receives his diploma, his family will be in the audience to celebrate his success. He aspires to build a career at the intersection of Special Education and Reading. In the meantime, though, he's relishing the prospect of crossing the commencement stage.

"I'm still pinching myself," he said. "It's still hard to believe I'm here. It still seems like a dream."

 

 

Events
Feb. 5, 6:15 p.m.

First Friday Stargazing

The UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy's Curtis Vaughan Observatory will offer free stargazing for the public beginning on top of the 4th floor of the Flawn Science Building. Experienced astronomers will be on hand to show a variety of astronomical objects and answer any questions. This event is free and open to the public, so feel free to invite friends and family.
Curtis Vaughan Observatory

Feb. 6, All Day

10th annual San Antonio Writing Project Teachers' Conference

This year's keynote speaker is Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisper. The event will feature breakout sessions and a presentation by the Creative Writers from North East School of the Arts. The event is free and open to all teachers from Pre-K through university level. Attendees can earn a certificate for 3 hours of Professional Development Credit.
Riklin Auditorium (FS1.406), Downtown Campus

Feb. 9, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. & 6 - 9 p.m.

Rowdy Gras 2016

The UTSA community is invited to attend the 3rd annual Rowdy Gras celebration! This year Rowdy Gras includes a daytime event from 11 a.m. -1 p.m. with a free food tasting and music on the UC Paseo. The main event takes place from 6 - 9 p.m. in the UC Lawn. The event includes free food, live jazz music, activities and giveaways.
University Center Paseo & Lawn, UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m.

UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning 2015-16 Speaker Series

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning’s 2015-16 Speaker Series continues with Dana Cuff, Ph.D., a professor of architecture and urbanism at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her talk, Cuff will discuss new forms of “studio” and new types of practices. Free and open to the public.
Aula Canaria Lecture Hall (BV 1.328), UTSA Downtown Campus

Feb. 13, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

29th annual Asian Festival - Year of the Monkey

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Feb. 13, 1 p.m.

2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium

Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016  Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium.  The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Iris Carlton LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Presentation and Book Signing with Luis Carlos Montalvan

Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Feb. 25, 6 p.m.

12th Annual Black Heritage Gala

The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.

Cultural Contrasts in Latin America

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)


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