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From Marine to teacher, Alex Rome helps students through his military experience

History has always been a good influence in Alex Rome’s life. “I had a great history teacher who really cared about me,” the second-year student in the teacher licensure program said. The history teacher in training hopes to use his military experience and UST education to give the next generation the same uplifting experience he had in a history classroom.

Tim Reilly still teaches history at Rome’s alma mater, Holy Family Catholic High School near Chanhassen, a suburb of the Twin Cities. Rome would hang out in Reilly’s classroom during his free time at school. Eleven years after Rome’s high school graduation, Reilly’s friendship and mentorship continues to play an important role in his life. In June 2014, Rome received his honorable discharge following four years in the U.S. Marine Corp. He moved back to the Twin Cities with his wife, Dana, and infant son, David, and geared up to start the education program at UST. He also returned to Reilly’s classroom, this time as a teacher candidate.

Reilly and Rome now have another bond through UST. Reilly, who has already earned a Master’s in Education at UST, is currently working toward an Ed.D. in Leadership, Policy and Administration.

This semester, Rome is doing a field experience in a 6th grade U.S. History/MN History classroom at Chaska Middle School West.

Even outside of school, history played an important role in Rome’s life. While other kids were watching Nickelodeon, 10-year-old Rome flipped to the History Channel. Rome’s father noticed his son’s historical interest and suggested he read Stephen Ambrose’s book on World War II and D-Day, the battle that turned the tide of the war in the allies’ favor. Rome spent months reading through the thick, adult-level historical work, and it left a definite impression, prompting in Rome a desire to serve that took him into the military.

“Reading about the sacrifices of the World War II generation made me want to serve and do my part, especially after 9-11,” he said.

He did so after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a bachelor’s degree in history. Ever the historian, the traditions of the marines appealed to him, so he signed up for a four-year stint as a machine gunner. His basic training started three weeks after his marriage to his wife, Dana. The couple was then stationed in California. and Rome also spent a year-and-a-half deployed between Okinawa, Japan, and Afghanistan.

Now Rome will bring to the classroom not only professional teacher training, but also a wealth of experience from his four years in the U.S. Marine Corp. He knows he won’t be teaching high school students how to use machine guns, but Rome has many other lessons from his military career to pass on to students, especially in the areas of time management and interpersonal relations.

“Before I went into the military I thought I could do this much in a day. In the military, I learned I could do this much in a day,” he said as he moved his hands apart in front of him to show how much more he can accomplish in 24 hours.

He also learned how to get along with all types of personalities, even when a difficult person was a superior who could significantly affect his life, including his “off hours.”

“In the civilian world if you have a bad boss, you just quit, but in the military you can’t quit,” he said. “You really have to figure out how to work with them, even if they are at fault.”

The life lessons he learned in the Marines give Rome the character qualities that make him a better teacher.

“His military experience gives him an authority in the classroom that other teachers work years to achieve,” Reilly said. “Alex has an amazing rapport with the students. They like him and appreciate his service to our country.”

Reilly also observed that Rome’s military discipline and training also translated into the education field in other specific ways.

“His organizational skills, ability to set priorities and work ‘on the fly’ when something doesn’t work are all skills the military brought out in him,” Reilly added, “Although I have taught for over 15 years, I still use ideas first taught to me at UST.”

Reilly notices that Rome’s UST education is already enhancing his natural teaching skills and military experience. Rome also spent some time over the summer giving back as a volunteer at the Step-Up Boys Mentorship Program Summer Summit, a week-long educational experience for boys designed to help prepare them for high school and make choices that will lead to a college education.

As a teacher, Rome hopes to continue that learning by using history to turn his students into critical thinkers and participating citizens.

“I think it’s important to have a civically engaged citizenry,” he said. “There’s a lot of history that goes into understanding how civic society works.”

He wants to help his students apply critical thinking not only to schoolwork and voting, but to their daily lives as well. He hopes he can teach his students to approach life and its problems from a place of critical thought instead of taking a merely emotional stance in regard to ethical and personal decisions.

Rome may have an unmistakable military character, but his warm smile, friendly openness and good example will make his classroom a boot camp of inspiring education.

Alex Rome with his wife, Dana.