Joe Brownell is on a mission to ensure that military dependents, veterans, active duty, guard and reserve students accomplish their academic and career goals at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“We try to help, however that may work,” said Brownell, director of Nebraska’s Military and Veteran Success Center. “Some (students) take a straight path, and others may have to explore a little bit more, but through it all you’re creating connections so that individuals are successful not only here, but in society.”
The Military and Veteran Success Center offers a range of student veteran support services — from quiet study spaces and computer access to one-on-one counseling and assistance with military benefits. It is designed to help student veterans and dependents with the transition to college life while building toward academic success.
Brownell said he works to connect military-related students so they can learn more about each other and ultimately feel comfortable in school. But he didn’t always see that in his future.
As a junior at St. Pats High School in North Platte, Brownell was selected to be part of a Nebraska all-star wrestling team that traveled to compete overseas. The team’s coach arranged for them to train at West Point Military Academy in the weeks leading up to their departure.
“That’s where this idea of the military started for me,” Brownell said.
Toward the end of his time at West Point, it became clear to Brownell that the military would be a good fit. When it came time to determine a branch, he said he had always felt drawn to the Air Force.
When it came time to apply for college, Brownell didn’t have the necessary test scores to gain admission to the Air Force Academy. He enrolled at Nebraska and was determined to get involved.
He walked on as a wrestler, joined ROTC and a fraternity. Due to his academics and standing in school, at the end of his second semester, the Air Force offered him a three-year scholarship. Brownell made the decision to leave the wrestling team and focus on ROTC and Greek life.
As part of the ROTC program, Brownell was able to lead the Arnold Air Society, a service organization that advocates for support of aerospace power. He served as an area commander of Big 8 schools with Arnold Air Society chapters.
When he graduated from Nebraska in 1989, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Brownell served as an executive officer in the U.S. Air Force and brought 28 years of strategic and organizational leadership experience when he returned to Nebraska earlier this year.
“The opportunity to do this and help others, I’ve always believed in servant leadership, and this is helping to do that,” Brownell said. “Your career doesn’t end when you leave the military. You still have to give back.”
Now, he takes pride in helping Huskers succeed and reach their academic and career goals.
“At the end of the day, whatever decisions we make, if we’re focused on the students, we’ll be successful,” Brownell said.