Student Spotlight: Thomas NovoGradac ’20

If Thomas NovoGradac ’20 hadn’t interned at the Federal Reserve Board two summers ago, then they wouldn’t have the Veteran Employee Resource Group that they do today. As a student-veteran at Syracuse University, NovoGradac noticed a lack of veteran-focused resources at the institution and suggested launching a two-part resource group and hiring initiative, which was implemented last month. But that experience at the Federal Reserve wasn’t the only time NovoGradac combined his military background with his interest in business to make a change.

NovoGradac joined the Marine Corps after high school and was stationed in Afghanistan, Japan and the Philippines before coming to Syracuse University to study accounting and information management technology. As a dual major in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and the School of Information Studies, he is bringing his passions together for a brighter future.

Settling into college life wasn’t easy for NovoGradac, who’s a few years older than most other undergraduate students on campus. But the presence of a large veteran community on campus, as a result of Syracuse University’s commitment to recruiting veterans and military-connected students, made the transition easier.

“At face value, when universities enact programs to increase veteran admissions, it can come across as superficial,” NovoGradac comments. “The financial benefits of a large student veteran population are significant, and it attracts positive attention from the press.”

But for NovoGradac, Syracuse University has made it clear that the support they offer veterans goes far beyond surface-level formalities. Last summer, NovoGradac’s GI Bill benefits, which were used to help pay for his college tuition, ran out. He still had one year of school left to complete, but now, that would have to be done without the bill’s financial support. However, the university gave him over $30,000 in grants to make up for the aid he was no longer receiving. Essentially, he received 100 percent financial aid to be able to complete his education at Syracuse University.

And NovoGradac is making the most of all his classes and educational opportunities, not only by using them to enhance his future, but also by connecting them to his background and previous experiences.

In the Managing and Leading People class that all Whitman sophomores take, NovoGradac went out of his way to ask how he could take his personal experiences and apply them to assignments, shares assistant professor of management Lynne Vincent, who teaches the class. “So… you want to do more work?” she says with a laugh. 

But NovoGradac’s interest in directly connecting his military background with the course material inspired her to think about making changes to assignments. “There are always ways that we can apply management concepts to other experiences. Seeing Tom’s eagerness to do that has driven me to figure out ways that I can encourage other students to do that more and provide them those opportunities,” Vincent says.

And Vincent is just one of the faculty members that NovoGradac views as more of a mentor than a professor. His parents didn’t go to college, and most of his other relatives are CPA accountants — but he’s interested in pursuing a different path. Graduate school, specifically getting an MBA, is definitely in the cards, and perhaps pursuing further education as well.

“I’ve had so many great professors at Whitman that it’s made me think about one day pursuing a Ph.D. and maybe becoming a professor, in that sense,” NovoGradac shares. For every concern, he’s had while on campus, whether it was about Veteran Affairs health care, career pursuits or anything in between, there’s always been a professor who’s had their door open to listen and provide advice. 

“Put it this way — I’m literally going upstairs to bother one of the professors right now,” he says with a smile. “I haven’t spoken to Professor Vincent in a while.”

For over 50 years, Syracuse University and Whitman have been committed to providing education to our nation’s military during and after their services to our country. Learn more about how military and veterans are supported on campus.

Sandhya Iyer