Student Veterans Honored by Peers at Annual Veterans Day Observance

Daphne Hilton (left) and Shawn Rykaczewski were named Rutgers–Camden’s Outstanding Male and Female Student Veterans for 2015.

Daphne Hilton (left) and Shawn Rykaczewski were named Rutgers–Camden’s Outstanding Male and Female Student Veterans for 2015.

In recognition of their hard work to help student veterans make the difficult adjustment to civilian and college life, two Rutgers University–Camden student veterans have been selected by their peers to receive the top student award from the Office of Veterans Affairs.

Shawn Rykaczewski of Stratford and Daphne Hilton of Camden were named Rutgers–Camden’s Outstanding Male and Female Student Veterans for 2015. The honor is bestowed annually during Rutgers–Camden’s annual Veterans Day observance.

“There are so many great student veterans at Rutgers–Camden. It’s truly an honor to be recognized from this amazing group,” says Rykaczewski, a junior biology major with a concentration in zoology.

“This award took me by surprise,” adds Hilton, who is pursuing a business degree. “For the veterans here to nominate me and award this honor to me is very humbling.”

The students were formally recognized and presented plaques acknowledging their achievements at Rutgers–Camden’s seventh annual Veterans Day luncheon, held on Nov. 5. The ceremony included a keynote address from Brigadier General Wilbur E. Wolf II, who is responsible for managing programs and operations for the Pennsylvania Joint Staff and overseeing issues that impact the 19,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Rutgers–Camden’s Office of Veterans Affairs assists student veterans with making a smooth transition from military life to student and civilian life. It also offers advice, counseling, preparation for graduate school, help in choosing careers and majors, and preparation for jobs and internships.

In 2015, Rutgers–Camden was, for the fifth consecutive year, named a Military Friendly School by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs magazine. The honor recognizes the university as one of the elite post-secondary schools for student veterans in the nation.

Brigadier Gen. Wilbur E. Wolf II delivers the keynote speech at Rutgers-Camden's annual Veterans Day observance.

Brigadier Gen. Wilbur E. Wolf II delivers the keynote speech at Rutgers-Camden’s annual Veterans Day observance.

“I enjoy taking the time to work with other veterans,” says Hilton, a tech sergeant in the United States Air Force Reserves with more than 29 years of military service. “The veterans aren’t teenagers who just came out of high school and are going to college. We have our jobs and our families and it’s a stressful transition. Rutgers–Camden makes it so easy to find balance in your life and your education.”

Hilton spent nine years on active duty with the Air Force and has been in the reserves for 19 years, specializing in aeromedical evacuation. She was deployed to Afghanistan, Germany, and Iraq during her active service and says she expects to be deployed again.

Rykaczewski served from 2008 to 2014 as a civil affairs specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion Airborne, attaining the rank of corporal. Initially stationed at Fort Dix, Rykaczewski was deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan, where he served as the liaison between the Provincial Reconstruction Team and Dr. Zia Gul, provincial health director for the Ghazni Province. In that role, Rykaczewski primarily assessed medical facilities in the province to determine if they were receiving the proper medical supplies in order to aid the outlying community.

As a student veteran, Rykaczewski helps to support causes benefiting the local community, including the inaugural Toys for Tots drive at Rutgers–Camden, a coat drive for homeless veterans, and physical-fitness competitions on campus.

“I look forward to seeing what else we can accomplish, especially thanks to our growing collaborations with other student groups on campus,” he says.

Also recognized by the Office of Veterans Affairs this year were Irene Ulrich, a senior administrative assistant at Rutgers–Camden who received the Staff Award for supporting student veterans; Joshua Piccoli, a Rutgers–Camden graduate and current Rutgers School of Law student who received the Director’s Award; and various corporate partners. The student veterans also honored Rutgers–Camden Director of Veterans Affairs Fred Davis for his dedication and commitment.

After the luncheon, Wolf joined Rutgers–Camden student veterans in placing a wreath at the memorial on campus honoring Jeremy Kane, a Rutgers–Camden student and Cherry Hill resident killed in action while serving with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2010. A 5K run is held in Kane’s name every spring to help raise money for a scholarship for Rutgers veterans.

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