VMAC - Veteran and Military Action Council

SUNY Veteran and Military Action Council

SUNY VMAC - Veteran Military Action Council logo

The SUNY Veteran and Military Action Council was formed to work directly with college leaders, elected officials, and state agencies to implement a series of policy shifts that increase access and improve the educational experience for all current and prospective military-connected students.



Havidán Rodríguez headshot
Havidán Rodríguez
University at Albany

Dr. Havidán Rodríguez was appointed by the SUNY Board of Trustees as the 20th president of the University at Albany in June 2017. He took office in September 2017 after more than 25 years as a leader in higher education.

Dr. Rodríguez served as the Founding Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). He also served as President, Ad Interim, and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Texas - Pan American (UTPA). Dr. Rodríguez played a key leadership role in the creation of UTRGV - which resulted from the consolidation of UTPA and the University of Texas Brownsville - and the creation, from the ground up, of UTRGV’s School of Medicine.

Prior to arriving at UTPA, Dr. Rodríguez served as the Deputy Provost, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs, and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. He was also a core faculty member and director of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), the oldest and one of the leading social science disaster research centers in the world.

Dr. Rodríguez held a faculty position and several administrative positions at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) for over a decade, and served as Director of the Minority Affairs Program for the American Sociological Association (1995-1998). He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan’s Population Fellow’s Program (Summers, 2001-2003).

Dr. Rodríguez has received numerous recognitions and awards, including the Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2002); the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Outstanding Achievement Award (2004); was recognized as one of the Hispanics of the Year in the State of Delaware for which he received the Professional Achievement Award (2007); the Alfredo G. de los Santos, Jr. Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (2015); was the featured cover story of the national publication, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine (2015); was highlighted in the Bright Spots in Hispanic Education by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (September 2015); received the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity Cesar Estrada Chavez Award (2016); was selected as a 2017 Top Latino Leader by the Council for Latino Workplace Equity; received the 2017 Inspiring Leaders in STEM Award by the INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine; and was awarded the Presidential Medallion by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Rodríguez has served on a number of committees for the National Academy of Sciences and on review panels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Ford Foundation, and was the Chair of the Latina/o Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Rodríguez has received funding from NSF, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the UPRM Sea Grant Program, among others, for a number of research projects focusing on the social science aspects of disasters and for projects aimed at providing hands-on research training and mentoring to undergraduate and graduate students. He was also the principal investigator for the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program: Training the Next Generation of Disaster Researchers. Dr. Rodríguez was the principal investigator for an NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant aimed at increasing the representation, participation, and leadership of women faculty in STEM fields. In addition, he was the Project Leader(with Kristin Croyle) for the AASCU Frontier Set Project, which focuses on student success, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Rodríguez has led and participated in a number of field research projects, including trips to Honduras, following Hurricane Mitch; India and Sri Lanka, following the Indian Ocean Tsunami; and the Gulf Coast, following Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Rodríguez has a significant number of publications in the area of disasters, as well as Latinos/as in the United States. He is the co-editor (with Donner and Trainor) of the Handbook of Disaster Research (2018) and co-author (with Mora and Dávila) of Population, Migration, and Socioeconomic Outcomes Among Island and Mainland Puerto Ricans: La Crisis Boricua (2018), among other book publications. He is also a co-author of a book currently under contract focusing on implementing effective warning systems.

His role in community engagement and service to the community, at the local, regional, and national level has been extensive. Dr. Rodríguez has served on numerous community, professional, and university boards, organizations, and committees.

Dr. Rodríguez obtained his PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Robert Nye headshot
Robert Nye
Finger Lakes Community College

Dr. Robert K. Nye joined Finger Lakes Community College on July 1, 2016, as the institution's fifth president, following a distinguished military and academic career.

Dr. Nye previously served as the vice president for academic affairs at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pa., and deputy provost of the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. He holds a doctorate in public administration from the University of Kansas.

In addition to his academic experience, Dr. Nye served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, starting with a commission as a second lieutenant of infantry. His assignments included postings with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.; 6th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, Alaska; the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.; the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Army's ceremonial unit at Fort Myer, Va.; and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY. His operational assignments included deployments to the Republic of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. From July 2010 to September 2011, Dr. Nye served as chief strategist for the deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq, coordinating actions with senior leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, U.S. Central Command, NATO Headquarters and the U.S. embassies in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, among other agencies.

Dr. Nye's academic experience began with teaching ROTC from 1992 to 95 as an assistant professor of military science at Cornell University. In 2007, upon completion of his doctoral studies at the University of Kansas, he joined the faculty at the Army War College, where he taught courses in strategic thinking, strategic leadership, military resourcing and budgeting, and negotiations.

In 2009, Dr. Nye was selected as the deputy dean, and in 2012, the deputy provost at the Army War College. Upon retirement as a colonel in 2013, he joined Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology where he oversaw faculty and development of new programs, among other duties.

As FLCC president, Dr. Nye serves on the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board.

Desiree Drindak headshot
Desiree Drindak
Director for the Office of Veteran and Military Education
SUNY Empire State College

Desiree Drindak, director for the office of veteran and military education at SUNY Empire State College, is a military spouse and has worked in military education for the past 16 years. Most recently, she was the military academic development coordinator for the Office of Veteran and Military Education and a military advisor for the Center for Distance Learning at SUNY Empire State College. Previously, she served as an on-base advisor and navy college counselor in Norfolk, Va. Drindak holds an M.Ed. in Psychology with a concentration in student personnel administration in higher education from Springfield College, Springfield, Mass.

Patrick Massaro headshot
Patrick Massaro
Subcommittee Leader
Director of the CREST Center and Veteran Coordinator
SUNY Canton

Patrick S. Massaro II, serves as the Director of the CREST Center and Coordinator of Military/Veteran Student Services at SUNY Canton. Mr. Massaro has served in the United States Marine Corps for 15 years in both active and reserve capacities.  

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam and a Masters degree in Sports Administration from Canisius College. He is also a graduate of Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

Shannon O’Neill headshot
Shannon O’Neill
Subcommittee Leader
College Director of Veterans Affairs,
Suffolk Community College

Shannon O'Neill is the Director of Veterans Affairs at Suffolk County Community College that serves more than 750 military-connected students annually across three campuses and two downtown centers as well as military installations.

O’Neill has nearly 15 years experience providing service to student veterans  at the community college level and at a private four-year institution. Prior to her tenure at Suffolk, O’Neill served as Assistant Dean for Military and Veteran Services at St. Josephs College where she established their veterans program and was responsible for more than 300% growth in the student veteran population in less than 5 years.  Military and Veteran students accounted for 4% of the total population. 

Since joining Suffolk in 2015, O’Neill has been responsible for establishing a Veterans Resource Center on each of the College’s three campuses, streamlined and centralized the certification process and launched academic programs on military bases. During her tenure, Suffolk has garnered over $200,000 in grant funds specific to serving student Veterans, as well as seen an increase in enrollment of military connected students. 

The strong support services O’Neill developed at Suffolk led to the college being named a VetSuccess on Campus program by the Department of Veterans Affairs, a designation held by only 104 colleges nationally.   

A passionate advocate for Veterans, O’Neill was invited to speak at the White House about the benefits of increased support for Veterans at the community college level. In addition to her work at the college, she volunteers with various Veterans service organizations, and also serves on several Veteran advisory boards.

O’Neill has a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services as well as a Masters in Management both from St. Joseph’s College.

Eric Farina headshot
Eric Farina
Director Veteran Affairs
Farmingdale State College

Eric Farina has served as the Farmingdale State College Director of Veterans services since 2011. Prior to that he was a full-time training NCO with the NY Army National Guard.  Eric lived in Atlanta for ten years and was a public school history teacher in Fulton County. After his discharge from the Regular Army Eric graduated from Long Island University's CW Post campus with a degree in history. Eric additionally holds a master's degree in military history from American Public University  and teaches as an adjunct professor at Farmingdale. Eric currently serves as an infantry squad leader in the NY National Guard's 69th Infantry. He lives on Long Island with his wife and their children.

Benjamin Pomerance headshot
Benjamin Pomerance
Deputy Director of Program Development,
New York State Division of Veteran Services

Benjamin Pomerance, Esq., is the Deputy Director for Program Development for the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs. In this role, he serves as the Deputy General Counsel for the agency, as well as working as the agency’s Legislative Liaison and overseeing several of the Division’s programming initiatives. His work focuses on advocacy and assistance for Veterans, Service members, and their families on a wide range of federal and state issues. He also leads Governor Cuomo’s Law School Consortium project, facilitating programs at New York State’s law schools offering pro bono legal services for Veterans.

Apart from his work for the Division, scholarly journals at Albany, Belmont, Delaware, Florida Coastal, Gonzaga, Hamline, Ohio Northern, Marquette, and Maryland law schools have published or will soon publish Benjamin’s articles on topics ranging from elder law to the federal judiciary to freedom of speech in post-revolutionary governments. He also contributed a chapter to an internationally published elder law anthology. The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims has cited his written work about the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ federal fiduciary system.

His recent speaking engagements include panel discussions at the 2016 and 2015 international Law & Society Conferences, the International Elder Law & Policy Conference, and the International Conference on Contracts, as well as leading and moderating programs in every region of New York State regarding benefits and services for Veterans and their families.

Benjamin graduated as the salutatorian of his class from Albany Law School in 2013. While at Albany Law, he founded and directed the school’s Veterans’ Rights Pro Bono Project, for which he received the “President’s Pro Bono Service Award” from the New York State Bar Association. He served as the Executive Editor for Symposium for the Albany Law Review, led the school’s student chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and published a report about human rights concerns confronting America’s aging prison population as an Edgar & Margaret Sandman Fellow with the Government Law Center.

Apart from his work in the law, Benjamin is an avid arts journalist with more than 500 published articles, a pursuit for which he has received first-place awards in feature writing from the New York State Press Association.

Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney headshot
Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney
Chief of Staff,
Buffalo State College

Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney joined Buffalo State College in 2018 to serve as Chief of Staff for President Katherine Conway-Turner. In June of 2020, she also assumed the role of Chief Diversity Officer for the College.

Prior to joining Buffalo State, Rodriguez-Dabney served as the City of Buffalo’s Chief Diversity Officer from 2015 to 2018. In that role, she developed the city’s Opportunity Pledge and spearheaded Mayor Byron Brown’s Opportunity Agenda, which focused on embracing racial equity, diversity, and inclusion and ensuring that opportunities created by the recent economic renaissance in the city could be shared by all. She also led an overhaul of the city’s Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MBE/WBE) policies and procedures, and initiated work on the first phase of the Buffalo Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative.

Rodriguez-Dabney holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from California State University San Marcos, and both a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws Degree from the University at Buffalo School of Law.

Dan Ryan headshot
Dan Ryan
Director, Veteran Services
University of Buffalo

Dan Ryan has served as the Director of Veteran Services since 2012. A University at Buffalo graduate, he served previously as the Director of Off-Campus Student Service from 2008-2012 and Director of Career Services from 1997-2008.

Eric Wheeler headshot
Eric Wheeler
Asst. Director, Veterans Services
Monroe Community College

Eric Wheeler served in the United States armed forces and is a leading advocate for veterans and their families in the Rochester area. During his two decades of service he was a member of both the United States Army and Navy Reserves. In the Navy, Eric conducted training overseas, acted as a Leading Petty Officer for weapons and tactics instruction, and earned his Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia. While in the Army, he deployed overseas as a Civil Affairs Team Sergeant for Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later mobilized as a Staff Sergeant responsible for instructing Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and Korean Defense Service Medal. 

Eric is currently the Assistant Director of Veteran Services at Monroe Community College where he assists veterans as they transition from the armed forces to higher education. He serves as the college's liaison with community agencies whose work affects the lives of veterans and their families. Eric also instructs courses as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Monroe Community College. Having performed significant academic research in the field of military history, he has taught undergraduate courses on both World War I and World War II, interviewed former service members for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress, escorted World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. on multiple Honor Flight missions, and facilitated several lecture series on modern warfare and the reintegration of veterans for the New York Council for the Humanities.

Eric received an Associate of Science in Liberal Arts from Monroe Community College and went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in History (summa cum laude), a Master of Arts in American History, and a Master of Public Administration, all from the State University of New York, College at Brockport. He is also a graduate of the Leadership Rochester program where he later served as the Program Chair. Eric is proud to volunteer for a number of local veterans’ organizations—including the Veterans Business Council where he is a member of the Board of Directors, CDS Monarch’s Warrior Salute where he is a member of their clinical advisory board, Veterans Outreach Center, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces Committee, and the Monroe County Veterans Advisory Council. 

Diana Pasterchick headshot
Diana Pasterchick
Coordinator of Veterans and Military Affairs,
SUNY System Administration

Diana Pasterchick serves as the SUNY Coordinator of Veteran and Military Affairs. In her position Diana assesses all academic and student life issues effecting SUNY’s military-affiliated students and ensures alignment and execution of SUNY’s mission, vision and program goals. This includes academic assessment, educational outreach, online support, and recruiting strategies. Diana is the liaison to SUNY professional groups, to include Chairperson of the SUNY Military Advisory Counsel and works collaboratively with campuses, veteran consortiums and military installations associated with SUNY. 

Diana is a retired Senior Master Sergeant and served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years.  Diana entered the Air Force in 1986 as a maintenance scheduler for C-141 Starlifter aircraft.  Diana later voluntarily retrained into the Manpower and Personnel career field.  The majority of Diana’s military assignments were spent managing enlisted personnel readiness and training programs at various Department of Defense agencies and bases. These agencies included, the Pentagon, Washington DC; 375th Air Mobility Wing, Scott AFB, Illinois; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington DC.  



Questions about the SUNY VMAC should be directed to Jackie.Orchard@suny.edu.

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