Steve Leader, director of CUI’s SSG Matthew Thompson Veterans Resource Center, was named Veteran of the Year for the 68th California State Assembly district after being secretly nominated by two CUI students.
“The coolest thing is I had no idea the students were doing it,” Leader says. “Even if I hadn’t gotten the award, to know they were acknowledging that I’m trying to make a difference in people’s lives— that’s how you know you’ve made it.”
Leader and around eighty veterans from other districts were celebrated at the State Capitol in June with a banquet, framed certificates of recognition, and a VIP tour of the building, including the Assembly floor. Dr. Steven Choi, who selected Leader for the honor, serves as Assemblyman of the 68th district, and is also on CUI’s President’s Advisory Council.
"Steve fixed everything all in one day. He made it possible for me to attend Concordia. I am incredibly grateful for all that Steve does for the veterans at Concordia."
CUI students Douglas Marquis and Richard Lewis gathered information and secretly submitted Leader’s nomination because of the help they received from him when applying to CUI. Marquis had served in the Marine Corps for ten years, then felt led to ministry and eventually became the veterans case manager for the Orange County Rescue Mission. He applied to CUI intending to become a military chaplain to serve Marines, but had difficulty getting his veterans benefits.
“I was having a tough time and was ready to give up, thinking, ’Maybe this isn’t my calling,’” Marquis says. “I prayed and knew if this was God’s will, that somehow he would make it happen.”
Upon finding Steve, everything turned around.
“Steve fixed everything all in one day,” Marquis says. “He made it possible for me to attend Concordia. I am incredibly grateful for all that Steve does for the veterans at Concordia. I have seen the SSG Matthew Thompson Veterans Resource Center grow and seen Steve assist my peers in more than just admissions.”
Marquis is now a senior earning his theology degree with an emphasis in biblical languages. He plans to deploy back to the frontlines to work as a chaplain after graduating from Concordia.
Under Leader, CUI’s Veterans Center is coming into its own, and recently raised $34,000 to create an endowed scholarship and a lending library where veterans can check out textbooks. The CUI veteran community numbers 142 people who either served in the military or are children or spouses of veterans, “and we’re finding more every week,” Leader says.
As for the award, “It’s pretty legit,” he says. “I hope it adds even more clout to our veterans program.”
ABOUT CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY IRVINE
Concordia University Irvine (CUI) is a non-profit Lutheran Christian liberal arts four-year university that prepares students for their vocations—their calling in life. Concordia offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in education, nursing, theology, business, and athletics administration. CUI’s undergraduate program is distinctive because of its nationally recognized core curriculum, Enduring Questions & Ideas, and its Lutheran heritage that provides a thoughtful and caring Christian community that lives out the theology of "Grace Alone. Faith Alone." Concordia is a U.S. News Top Tier Regional University and has been named by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the fastest growing private nonprofit master's institutions. The university is part of the Concordia University System, the second largest education ministry system in the United States just behind the Catholic Church. The NCAA DII private university enrolls over 4,000 students annually.
Lizz Mishreki, APR
Director of Public Relation
Concordia University Irvine