Alumni Spotlight: Marcelle Leis '13
Service Before Self
Service Before Self
By Janee Law ’14
Recently retired from her role as chief master sergeant with the New York Air National Guard, Marcelle Leis ’13 dedicated 24 years of service to protect her community. Raised in Bellmore, N.Y., Leis graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 1985, with no intention of joining the service until four years later, when she was 21 years old.
“I discovered the Air National Guard by chance and took a leap of faith,” Leis said. “My primary motive for enlisting was to get an education, but I knew from the beginning that it would be a lifetime of service.”
After joining the service, Leis’ whole world changed. Starting as a personnel specialist, she professionally advanced in the United States Air Force (USAF), earning several promotions as a leader. With this, she also served as an adjunct instructor for the USAF First Sergeant Academy in 2002.
“I really enjoyed that and got a little bit of the teaching bug,” Leis said. “I found out that it was no longer about me, it was about serving our community and our nation.”
Meanwhile, her passion for knowledge never faded and, 15 years after receiving her associate’s degree, Leis courageously went back to school to further her education. She attended St. Joseph’s College following her retirement as chief master sergeant and graduated from the Long Island Campus in May 2013 with a B.S. in Community Health and Human Services. Now, continuing her education even further at SJC, Leis is working towards an M.S. in Human Services Leadership.
Currently living in Patchogue, N.Y., with her husband of 20 years, Peter, and two children, Jenna and Sam, Leis explained that her location wasn’t the only aspect that attracted her to SJC. It was a visit to her military base from Shannon O’Neill, assistant dean and military advisor at SJC, in 2009 that helped pave the way for Leis.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to study, but I knew that I wanted to go back and St. Joseph’s made it so easy for me,” Leis said.
“Although I admire the guidance of every instructor at SJC, I adopted Shannon O’Neill as a mentor because she cares so much and goes above and beyond for others. That’s the reason why there are so many veterans at the College. It’s her connection to our community that really inspires them to come back. It’s definitely what inspired me to come back.”
Taking an active role on campus, Leis spoke at an event in August, titled, “Serving Our Veterans: New Territory for Human Services Professionals.” During her speech, she revealed how SJC assisted her in the career force and clarified what opportunities the human services program offers to veterans.
In addition to activities on campus, Leis recently began her latest venture as a peer facilitator with the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, a veteran PTSD support group run by veterans for veterans. While working with the Support Project, Leis is able to provide support and necessary services to promote wellness for veterans who are returning home from combat operations.
“I attribute the successes that I’m having in the work force to St. Joe’s,” Leis said. “The connection I made with the College has led me to so many new opportunities.”
When she’s not dedicating her time to others, Leis enjoys working on her garden in the summer and partaking in the cardio program at the Dragon Gate Martial Arts Academy in Oakdale.
Although her years in the military have come to a close, Leis continues to be a guide for future generations and has a high level of respect and honor for her fellow service members, to whom she offers this advice:
“Be sure to take advantage of every educational juncture in and out of the service. Always remember that if you’re serving, you’re serving your community and, even though one of our core values is ‘service before self’, that’s not in lieu of taking care of yourself. The stronger you are, the stronger you will be for our country.”