Biology Major Named Outstanding Female Student Veteran of the Year

By Tom McLaughlin

Leslie Demark of Gibbsboro has been named Rutgers University–Camden’s outstanding female student veteran from the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at Rutgers–Camden for 2019. Jaron Brown is the male recipient. The honor is bestowed during Rutgers–Camden’s annual Veterans Day observance.

“I am extremely humbled to receive this honor,” says Demark, a biology major, who serves as an administrative assistant in the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs on campus. “Other people are deserving as well, but I love doing my part assisting fellow student veterans at Rutgers–Camden.”

Demark served in the U.S. Navy from 2009 to 2017, attaining the rank of hospital corpsman petty officer third class in the Fleet Marine Force. In 2009, the Houston native graduated from Mayde High School and joined the Navy soon thereafter. In her first duty station, she served from 2010 to 2013 as a hospital corpsman in the emergency room and a dental assistant – providing dental cleanings to more than 700 patients – in the clinic at U.S. Naval Hospital Rota.

She also performed command collateral duties, serving in the auxiliary security force with the military police, as well as a translator at the hospital for American and Spanish doctors when patients were referred for external patient care.

“That was a great experience,” says Demark. “I got to see firsthand how their healthcare system and ours worked together and was able to assist with the language barrier.”

Demark then served as a dental assistant from 2013 to 2015 at Marine Corps Station Miramar in California, performing 330 dental cleanings and assisting in 7,400 procedures. She also assisted in oral surgery treatment, as well as patient education and disease prevention, for more than 800 Bangladeshi nationals during a humanitarian mission to Rangpur, Bangladesh.

Moreover, she served as a command fitness leader on base, leading groups in a range of weekly fitness activities and helping Marines to stay fit in order to pass the biannual physical fitness tests.

Demark was discharged from active duty in 2015 and served for two years in the Navy Individual Ready Reserve before being honorable discharged in 2017. Looking back on her naval career, she says, she was able to gain considerable experience well beyond her years.

“I was introduced to many high-pressure situations and was given so many responsibilities at a young age that I would not have had in a civilian career,” she says.

Demark later served from 2016 to 2018 as an office manager and dental assistant, aiding underinsured patients, at a nonprofit dental clinic in Wasilla, Alaska.  She calls the job “the hardest and most rewarding” of her life.

“It was very gratifying being able to help members of the community,” she says. “We were just doing our job, but the people there were so grateful.”

Soon after moving to New Jersey in summer 2018, Demark looked around at area universities and noticed that Rutgers–Camden was rated as one of the top military-friendly schools in the region. She began taking summer courses soon after and enrolled as a fulltime student that fall.

Returning to school was no big adjustment, she says; after all, she had never stopped taking classes from the time she entered the military. She previously had attended University of Maryland classes while stationed in Spain and later took classes at San Diego City College. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in applied sciences from Wayland Baptist University in 2016 before pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Alaska.

However, when it comes to supporting student veterans, she says, Rutgers–Camden – and its Office of Military and Veterans Affairs – is unlike anything she has ever seen.

“From the beginning, it felt like home,” says Demark, who has been active in the student veterans group on campus, currently handling public relations duties. “I had attended several universities and never had that welcoming feeling like I do here. I enjoy having the opportunity now to help spread that camaraderie and friendly atmosphere on campus.”

In addition to her studies, Demark is busy trying to gain as much research experience as possible. She currently works in Biology Professor William Saidel’s neurophysiology lab, assisting in research mapping spatial memory in fish. She is considering entering a career in healthcare, with plans to return to active duty.

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