MU gets Purple Heart distinction

Erin Almeter, Staff writer

Mercyhurst University has been given the distinction of being named a Purple Heart University.

Mercyhurst and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia are the only two colleges in Pennsylvania to be awarded this title. Mercyhurst is the first in the region to receive the honor from the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart is a national organization that aims to create a safe environment filled with good will and welcoming spirit among combat-wounded veterans. The group also promotes loyalty, support essential lawmaking action and support necessary services to all veterans and their families.

The Purple Heart designation recognizes Mercyhurst’s efforts in providing services for veterans, especially those who were wounded when serving the country and their families. The designation of the Purple Heart University is specifically for veterans who are now pursuing a higher education at Mercyhurst. A Purple Heart University signifies the efforts put into honoring and recognizing the veterans that are a part of the university’s community.

First introduced as the Badge of Military Merit by General George Washington in 1782, the Purple Heart is the nation’s oldest military award. It is granted to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been wounded during actions from enemy combatants during military operations. It can also be awarded to family members of fallen service members.

Mercyhurst has welcomed one Purple Heart recipient so far, U.S. Army First Sergeant Cody Harrington, who has been accepted to the Physician Assistant Program.

The Purple Heart distinction does not just affect the student body, though. Amy Burniston, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biology and Education at Mercyhurst, holds this esteem near to her heart as her husband, U.S. Marine Sgt. Ryan Burniston, is a three-time combat veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart.

Burniston expressed how important it is for the student body as a whole to participate in Veterans Week events.

“It is necessary to support veteran peers and reach out to students that have served,” Burniston said.

In addition to this new recognition, Mercyhurst has been known as a military friendly university. It is home to 54 student-veterans as well as a very active ROTC program.

Mercyhurst offers a veterans’ service office and resource center on campus, provides a support liaison and offers veterans priority registration for classes, as well as other resources.

Michael Szumigala, Veterans Outreach & Admissions coordinator, believes that this commitment to serving Veterans is part of the university’s Mercy heritage.

“For traditional students, it is a reminder of the importance of our mission at Mercyhurst University in the commitment to serving others,” Szumigala said.

On the Mercyhurst University website, there is a specific page dedicated to explaining the schools commitment to veteran students. The website states that Mercyhurst “strives to go beyond ‘veteran friendly’ toward providing a truly supportive and engaging experience for all our veterans, service members and dependents.” Mercyhurst creates these opportunities for undergraduate opportunities, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees.

If anyone would like more information for veteran students, you can contact either Szumigala or Ronald Swift, assistant Veterans Services coordinator.

“We are humbled and grateful for the opportunity to honor our veteran students and those who sacrificed so much for us to enjoy our freedoms and want them to know that they are respected and appreciated,” Szumigala said.

Burniston shares similar sentiments when asked what she would say to the veteran student population at Mercyhurst.

“Thank you for all that you have sacrificed and allowing us to enjoy the freedoms that we have,” Burniston said.

Mercyhurst is joining 91 other colleges and universities worldwide to be awarded the Purple Heart University designation by the MOPH.

This Purple Heart designation will become official at a ceremony Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. in the Mercy Heritage Room. There will be 15 recipients recognized at the ceremony. Erie Mayor Joe Schember is among the officials expected to attend.

This ceremony kicks off a series of events in early celebration of Veterans Day on Nov. 11. There will also be a Celebration of Valor on Nov. 8, a Military Cadence Run and Military Themed Mess Hall Dinner on Nov. 9 and a pre-game tailgate party, national anthem tribute and football game with reserved seating for veterans and their families on Nov. 10.