Commander Stephan Bunker of Roderick-Crosby American Legion Post 28, left, gives University of Maine at Farmington graduates Bailey Randle, center, and Thomas Tubman, right, special honors at the college’s annual student leadership banquet on Wednesday, April 24. Both veterans of the armed forces, Randle and Tubman credit Administrative Support Supervisor Brian Ellis for the campus’ “drastic change” towards veteran students. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — On Saturday, May 4, more than 300 students graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington with degrees across many different fields. Among this season of graduates are veterans Bailey Randle and Thomas Tubman, who were honored at the college’s annual student leadership banquet on Wednesday, April 24, and represent an initiative to make military veterans feel more welcomed on campus.

“Veterans are leaders just from entering the call by raising their hand, and vowing to protect and serve their community,” Commander Stephan Bunker of Roderick-Crosby American Legion Post 28 said at the banquet when presenting honors to two students.

He went on to thank UMF President Joseph McDonnell in setting a “new tone” of welcoming veterans onto the campus. McDonnell’s new tone is aided by Administrative Support Supervisor and United States Navy Veteran Brian Ellis.

A 20-year veteran, Ellis joined the college less than two years ago after pursuing a job in the president’s office. He said that his initial interview went well, and he got a call a couple days later.

“They said President McDonald wanted to meet with me one on one,” he shared. “He asked what can I do, and I asked him ‘What do you want?'”

Ellis explained his naval background and what he had to offer, and McDonnell decided to add him to his office with the specific task of improving veterans’ experiences with the UMF campus.


“We were searching for an assistant to the president after the person in that position left UMF,” McDonnell shared with The Franklin Journal. “Brian applied for that position, which had nothing to do with veterans’ affairs – and we hired him based on his prior administrative experience.

“Upon learning of Brian’s active engagement in veteran affairs,” he continued, “I decided to build into the position a focus on veteran recruitment and liaison.

“I am interested in making UMF a destination for veterans,” he added.

Through Ellis, the college has established a connection with Roderick-Crosby American Legion Post 28 and the Farmington Historical Society and is making a greater effort to reach veterans in the Farmington community and beyond. Ellis shared that he is currently meeting with veterans in Phillips once a month in a roundtable format, where they simply discuss things relating to them.

“We meet for maybe an hour or two and it’s just literally a group of veterans who just talk military, if you will,” he said. “A bunch of veterans that can talk about just how the day is going or how things are going on a veteran level where they understand each other, if that makes sense.”

Through these sessions, Ellis can pick up on what the veterans want from institutions like UMF. Since he joined, his most valuable tactic has been listening.


“Right now, we have 15 students that are veterans here at UMF,” he said, “and we’ve got about 17 faculty and staff. What I’ve been doing since I started was meeting with these veteran students and staff and just seeing why they chose UMF, what they liked about UMF since they’ve been here, and how we can improve the experience for the veterans.”

Currently living in Fayette, Tubman attested that the early days of his college career gave him a different impression from what he was originally told about the campus. A naval veteran as well, Tubman believed the campus to have a very welcoming atmosphere.

“During my first year of college,” Tubman shared in an email, “I was excited to make connections with the other veterans on campus as the University was advertised as one of the more veteran-friendly colleges in New England.”

Tubman was disappointed, however, to find the school lacked veteran-focused events and groups like he was hoping for, and he found his experience further disrupted when the campus eliminated nine faculty members from humanities and social sciences programs by the end of his sophomore year.

The eliminations included professors of philosophy and religion, women’s and gender studies, history, and world languages. Tubman shared some of those programs did survive, but “with the guts of the programs all but gone.”

Once Ellis arrived, things started to turn around for Tubman’s experience, and for Randle as well. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Randle said Ellis was committed to ensuring student veterans were met with acceptance and recognition for their service.


“He took the time to ask us what we thought could be improved for current and future veteran students and was quick to put it into action,” Randle said. “His hard work and commitment to us veterans don’t go unnoticed.”

“Whether it came in the form of a Monthly Veteran Newsletter,” Tubman said, “or by the award ceremony that I was asked to attend, there has been a drastic change on campus, directly caused by Mr. Ellis.”

Moving forward, Ellis is hoping to continue to expand the campus’ efforts with a special common area for veterans, campus housing for veterans, and expanding services to dependents of veterans as well.

“I myself have been going to different events around Farmington and Maine,” Ellis said, “and just kind of talking to some younger veterans and even some older ones and just saying, ‘Hey, if you’re looking for a place to go, if you’re looking for a place to take a class or you’re looking for your degree, come to UMF.

“We would like veteran students to have a presence here based on the support from the president and from the campus itself,” he added.

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