Graduate Matthew Nielsen: After more than a decade, combat veteran returns to complete degree

Matthew Nielsen

Meet Matthew Nielsen.

Undergraduate program: Computer Science
Campus: Flagstaff Mountain Campus

Matthew Nielsen started at Northern Arizona University in 2006 as a traditional student fresh out of high school. Fast-forward 11 years to 2017 where this week, Nielsen graduates with his bachelor’s in computer science degree. His experience has been anything but traditional.

After completing three college semesters more than a decade ago, Nielsen answered a higher calling. He was moved to join the U.S. Air Force’s security forces division, where he served for six years as an active duty member and a reservist, deploying to Afghanistan and Qatar.

He didn’t have a hard time leaving NAU because he knew, one day, he would return. But like most veterans, Nielsen quickly realized leaving the military life behind and entering the civilian community was not an easy transition.

“I ran into multiple challenges along the way, but that was what compelled me to get involved with the Veteran Student Center and help others who were struggling with the transition like I was,” Nielsen said. “I saw every opportunity as a chance to better myself, while benefiting an entire community of my peers whilst making NAU a welcoming place for veterans.”

Nielsen worked as a student employee at the center for the remaining three years of his time at NAU. In addition to organizing river rafting trips for incoming veterans, helping facilitate the Veterans Day parade and advocating for veterans in higher education as an executive member of the Student Veterans of America Chapter, he established a crisis intervention support team after a shooting on the NAU campus in October 2015.

“I initiated and organized an assembly of available student veterans to create an open dialogue with people affected by the event. The idea was to connect them one-on-one to student combat veterans who have a unique perspective on trauma. We connected two victims, one parent and one witness with volunteer veterans. This provided a safe space to explore some healing options from experienced individuals who had similar stories.”

In 2016, he broadened his advocacy reach by running and winning a seat as an ASNAU Senator where he took part in discussions on important campus issues and voted on items of significance, such as club recognitions, final appropriations, bylaw changes and more.

“I know that all of the experience I gained working with NAU students will serve me well in life, and I will always be proud to be a Lumberjack veteran.”

NAU Communications