November 10, 2023
Veterans Day: Purdue Global faculty, student reflect on their military service
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Tiffany Laitola, Richard Orona and Dusty Talton are all U.S. military veterans who use their military experiences to improve the lives of veterans, active-duty personnel and their families who are pursuing a Purdue Global education.
Laitola, Orona and Talton are all with Purdue Global, Purdue’s online university for working adults. Purdue Global has nearly 3,000 veterans enrolled as students and 133 veterans who are faculty or staff.
As the U.S. prepares to observe Veterans Day on Saturday (Nov. 11), the three shared their thoughts on their military service and journeys.
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Laitola: Always learning, looking to make a difference
Laitola of Massachusetts is an academic department chair in Purdue Global’s School of Business and Information Technology. She retired from the U.S. Navy on Sept. 1, 2023, after 30 years specializing in cybersecurity and cryptology.
This is her first Veterans Day as a veteran. Laitola said she has feelings of excitement and accomplishment about her time in the Navy. But now she is looking forward to serving other veterans and active-duty personnel who are enrolled at Purdue Global.
She was assigned at bases along the East Coast and in Germany; on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69); USS Barry (DDG 52), a guided-missile destroyer; and USS Wasp (LHD 1), an amphibious assault ship.
“My first duty station was on the Eisenhower in 1994, when women were assigned to combatant ships. That was interesting to be among the first group assigned,” Laitola said. “I really enjoyed the aspect of meeting new people from all over that had different interests and different backgrounds.”
She never expected to retire from the Navy, as there were different reasons for staying.
“My skills were great and marketable, but I needed a diploma to back it. I decided to go to school,” she said.
Laitola used tuition assistance to attend school in the late 1990s. She was determined to get a degree, overcoming challenges of working, raising twin boys and finding ways to pay her share of tuition.
It took her five years to earn her associate degree. “My core values kept on pushing me through,” she said. As time went on, she earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the areas of information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics.
Laitola discovered her gift for education, learning instruction and innovation, especially while working at the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy, and recently earned an education specialist degree. Now, being in education and keeping her ties to the cybersecurity/IT field is the best of both worlds for her.
“I work with the best people. It’s truly a blessing to go to work. I get excited when I see their faces,” Laitola said. “I’m constantly learning from them.”
Continuing her family’s military service to the country, as her father was in the Army, she now has one son in the Navy and another in the Army Reserves.
“I just found out that my son was taking classes from Purdue Global’s School of Business and Information Technology. He will be graduating in February 2024,” she said.
Orona: Advocating for military-affiliated students
Orona of Texas is Purdue Global’s director of military health and nursing, a professor, and a consultant in the School of Health Sciences. He has been with Purdue Global since 2011, following his retirement from the U.S. Army.
A New Mexico native, Orona joined the Army one week after his high school graduation in 1981.
Starting as a dental specialist, Orona moved through the Army’s ranks to sergeant major and became the fourth dental command sergeant major. For his last assignment, he was the Army’s senior enlisted advisor overseeing building the world’s largest medical training campus, the Medical Education and Training Campus.
Orona utilized his education benefits and earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Thomas Edison State University and completed a doctorate in education from Northcentral University following retirement.
“It is truly an honor working for Purdue Global as a veteran. As a senior leader in the military, I was able to take care of service members with a focus on their overall well-being. As an employee of Purdue Global, I am able to continue serving our military and their families by providing education programs,” Orona said.
His dental and military background helps him and others in the School of Health Sciences build academic pathways for military personnel to earn credit for their training and education. Orona frequently talks with military personnel about their benefits, as well as ways to balance their work, family and education. He also can be found providing guidance and mentorship during courses.
One of his highlights each year is teaching the School of Health Sciences’ capstone program and celebrating alongside military students as they finish their program and earn their degree.
Orona’s thoughts on Veterans Day are filled with mixed emotions.
“I am proud to have worn the uniform for 30 years in serving my country with so many other veterans. However, I lost a son who was a staff sergeant in the Army to suicide, as he suffered from PTSD and depression after deployments,” Orona said. “It is easy to see how Veterans Day is a rough day for me as I am overcome with grief for losing a wonderful son.”
Talton: Leading and equipping student veterans
Talton was in the U.S. Army, leaving active duty in 1991 after Operation Desert Shield was activated.
Now Talton, who is enrolled in the School of Business and Information Technology, is working with her fellow veterans in a different way: She is president of the Purdue Global Student Military Association. She helps veterans navigate Purdue Global with student life resources.
The Purdue Global Student Military Association has helped make her experience at Purdue Global great, especially having the opportunity to connect with other veterans.
“Veterans Day for me is a day of reflection,” she said. “I utilize the day to check on other veterans and doing what I can to change the stigma of the 22 veterans a day who die by suicide. I am always available to anyone who needs help.”
One of her goals this year is establishing a Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter at Purdue Global.
“The Purdue Global Student Military Association members are excited to bring all of the additional resources SVA has to our military family,” Talton says.
Talton recently attended the SVA Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.
“It was an intense three-day event. They taught us how to utilize our strengths and knowledge to be top-notch leaders,” she says. “I can’t wait to share with the rest of the leadership team the tools I learned to help our team excel in our personal and professional lives.”
About Purdue Global
Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults who have life experience and often some college credits. It offers flexible paths for students to earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, based on their work experience, military service and previous college credits, no matter where they are in their life journey. Purdue Global is a nonprofit, public university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and backed by Purdue University. For more information, visit https://stories.purdue.edu/purdue-global/.
Writer/Media contact: Matthew Oates, 765-496-6160, firstname.lastname@example.org, @mo_oates
Sources: Tiffany Laitola, Richard Orona and Dusty Talton