Daniel Pierce-Parra of Bellevue, Neb., a sophomore majoring in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is a non-traditional student who brings a refreshingly different perspective and set of experiences to Virginia Tech. 

During his five years of service in the United States Marine Corps, he was a world class aviation mechanic, responsible for the mechanical integrity of $30 million helicopters trusted to carry the president of the United States. He has also worked as a HAZMAT instructor. He has been on a residential construction crew. He was even a line cook for a time.

Today, Pierce-Parra serves as vice president of the Veterans@VT student organization, a chapter of Student Veterans of America. He is also a Leadership Tech mentor, SGA House representative, University Council SGA representative, veterans student support team member, and Student Centers and Activities advisory board member.

“Life is non-linear,” Pierce-Parra said. “Being a 25-year old sophomore is awesome, limitations are self-determined, and what you do on a daily basis can work to uplift and motivate those around you. So choose your current actions wisely because they can ripple well into the future. Know yourself and seek self-improvement.”

This fall, Pierce-Parra has been involved in bringing awareness to the loss of benefits veteran students and GI Bill dependents have faced due to the government shutdown. Many students who receive this funding use it as their main source of income while they are in school. 

More than 400 student veterans at Virginia Tech are enrolled under the GI Bill. An additional 600 are dependents of veterans receiving the benefit, which can be transferred to qualifying family members. 

Pierce-Parra, along with Veterans@ VT, has spearheaded a veterans relief fund project for the Virginia Tech veterans that will assist them through this month.

As part of that effort, Pierce-Parra organized a four-man team of fellow Virginia Tech Marine veterans to step in as a color guard for a wounded fellow Marine veteran when a trained unit could not be present for a ceremony due to the government shutdown. He worked with faculty, staff, and other student veterans to highlight student veteran problems associated with the government shutdown and to probe solutions.

Pierce-Parra also reached out to other institutions to create a Student Veterans of Virginia group that will serve as a coalition for veteran students across the commonwealth. He made phone calls to many of the two- and four-year colleges and universities in Virginia. He encountered some bureaucratic roadblocks, but he persevered, gained support, and the group acted with a unified, non-partisan voice to underscore the urgency of veterans’ situations.

“Collectively we ratified a letter that was sent out to our elected officials to voice our concern,” said Pierce-Parra. “I did not do any of this alone. I had a lot of help along the way, but I can say it took a considerable amount of my free time. I thank all those who helped me achieve this in the past month.”         

Most recently, Pierce-Parra was honored with an Aspire! Award for Courageous Leadership. The awards recognize students who exemplify the Division of Student Affairs’ Aspirations for Student Learning.

In the Aspire! Award presentation, Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo said, “Daniel, you have indeed had a big impact. We appreciate your service and we celebrate all you have done for veterans at Virginia Tech and across the commonwealth.”

This summer Pierce-Parra will be an officer candidate in Marine Officer Candidate School. He will be going back into the Marines via a program called Platoon Leaders Class that leads to commissioning as an officer in the Marine Corps.