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Army vet brings experience to leadership program

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November 10, 2017

Jesse Stanfield poses for a photo during his time in the Army.Jesse Stanfield knows a thing or two about leadership. Stanfield has spent seven years in the Army National Guard, which included a deployment to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, and has worked his way up to the rank of Sergeant.

When he enrolled at Detroit Mercy and into the Leadership Minor program in 2016, he didn’t think he would get much out of it. But even the grizzled veteran admitted, there’s always more to learn about yourself when it comes to leadership.

“When I first entered the leadership class, the main one, I thought to myself, ‘There is no way I’m going to learn anything here. I was a veteran for seven years, I was respected for my leadership in my unit. This is probably going to be an easy ‘A,’ ” Stanfield said.

“That was partially true, but I also found out that I did learn about myself. If you ask me, the leadership minor is probably the most important program Detroit Mercy has because all too often these kids are sent out into the world, and they can recite the Pythagorean theorem to you or they can recall something from history or science class, but as far as how to operate in the world, some can struggle.

“I think the Leadership minor program gives students a leg up. It lets you figure out who you are because I think far too often the question of self is completely disregarded in college because who has time to think about yourself when you got four tests next week.”

Stanfield was introduced to the qualities of a great leader from a Sergeant he befriended, RJ Breisacher.

“When I was overseas, Breisacher always told me, ‘When you get home, you’re going to be a leader in everything you do. You’re not going to have a choice in the matter, it’s just who you are going to be. That’s how the military molds you. Some people the training takes and some people it doesn’t. For you, it’s going to take, I can already tell.’ I think he’s right about that,” Stanfield said.

Stanfield worked his way up the military ladder through hard work and dedication. He hit a rough patch meeting the required run times for a Sergeant because of an undiagnosed bout with asthma. But he was able to do enough to stand out and earn the promotion.

“I’ve held the Sergeant position for several years because I would show up for every drill,” Stanfield said. “I was the guy taking charge. I was the guy making sure things got done. I was the guy making sure the ducks were in a row.

“For me, it was kind of a high. I can’t handle the pressure like I used to, but I used to enjoy being the guy calling the shots. I enjoyed being the guy putting the plan together. I enjoyed having those responsibilities.”

Stanfield’s responsibilities have changed, but his life experiences make him a valuable asset in the leadership program whose catchphrase is, “Leadership isn’t minor at Detroit Mercy.”

“Dr. Don DiPaolo, who is the coordinator for the Leadership program, pointed out to me, ‘You actually help me teach the class half the time,’ because a lot of times I’m dealing with younger people,” said the 33-year-old Stanfield. “When you’re in a leadership course where it’s more about learning who you are or learning how to operate in the world, there’s a lot of value in it. It teaches you about yourself, and about life and how to handle things.”

Stanfield’s time in the military can make him a popular guy for questions in class, which he doesn’t mind as long as people are respectful.

“I’ve had a couple people ask me the one question you don’t ask veterans, ‘Did you kill anybody?’ But for the most part people are respectful about it,” Stanfield said. “They ask, ‘Hey, what was it like?’ or ‘Would you recommend the military?’ Or they’ll have questions about day-to-day life. Just really simple stuff.”

DiPaolo says he often has at least one veteran in his classes and he wishes he could have a veteran in all of them because of their sense of responsibility.

“We have an entire generation that struggles with accountability and leadership, and Jesse does not struggle with that, it’s part of who he is,” DiPaolo said. “Veterans get accountability, they get responsibility and leadership. A lot of students don’t have that experience and don’t understand it as well as Jesse does, and did. It’s great to see him critically analyze, think through what he experienced and what he wants to bring forward in his current life, and it’s great for students to see.

“A lot of people want the perks of leadership, but they’re not willing to pay the price for those perks. Students who are vets certainly understand about paying the price of leadership and that’s something Jesse brings.”

Jesse Stanfield plays with his two sons.Stanfield admits the year he spent in Afghanistan was difficult, stating matter of factly, “If you ever get a chance to do that, I say pass on that.” But overall Stanfield feels  the military changed him for the better.

“When I was overseas, for anybody who has ever seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ where every day is the exact same, that’s pretty much how deployment is,” Stanfield said. “You find ways to keep it fresh here and there. You have to do that for a year, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

“I will say it forced me to grow up a lot because I was a really immature person. It forced me to take a harsher look at life, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It made me grow as a person.”

Stanfield has used those skills he picked up in the military to excel at Detroit Mercy. He is majoring in a Computer & Information Systems and recently landed a highly-coveted internship at Faurecia, which is the eighth largest international automotive part manufacturer in the world. One in four automobiles is equipped by Faurecia.

“Sheer and utter dumb luck,” Stanfield joked of how he earned the internship. “I was applying for internships — and I never dealt with internships — so I was just applying to any internship I could find. What I didn’t understand is there are different levels of internships, there’s your starter internships and then there are ones you go to after you’ve had couple internships. Faurecia is one of those that you get after you’ve had a few. I interviewed fairly well I guess because my boss selected me.

“As far as the quality of the internship, I would say it’s fantastic. I essentially work as a system administrator, which is my field. It’s kind of where everybody starts off, in general tech.”

Stanfield works roughly 40 hours a week for Faurecia in addition to attending Detroit Mercy and making time for his two young sons, Graham (5) and Luca (1).

“With great difficulty,” Stanfield said of how he manages his time. “This semester I’ve been stressed to the max where sometimes I’m holding on by the seat of my pants hoping I make it through. But I’m also taking three of the hardest courses I think I’ve ever taken so I suppose that’s to be expected. There are definitely days where I want to throw in the towel, but I’ve also become the type of person where I don’t throw in the towel. It’s difficult but I somehow manage.”

Stanfield said the professors at Detroit Mercy have been extremely understanding when it comes to his military, internship or family commitments. He doesn’t expect any special treatment, but the relationships he has built with his professors has allowed for some flexibility.

“The professors have been great,” Stanfield said. “There are times where I’ve had to play that card, ‘I’m sure you hear this all the time, but I’m a really busy guy. Let me explain to you just how busy I am.’ A lot of times I have found that the professors will be accommodating.”

He hopes to finish his bachelor’s degree in 2018 and then work on his masters at Detroit Mercy.

“One thing I really like about Detroit Mercy is, it’s not just school,” Stanfield said. “What they teach is almost a community mentality where they make you look at the bigger picture. It’s not just classes at Detroit Mercy, it’s about helping rebuild the community.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.

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