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UT News

Longhorn Veteran Spotlight: Blake Smith

To celebrate Veterans Day, UT Austin is highlighting a few of the outstanding Longhorn veterans on campus. The university is home to more than 475 military veterans, and nearly 1,300 students are spouses or children of current or former military members.

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Where are you from, where and when did you serve, and what do you do currently?

I am originally from Fort Worth, but have been stationed in Charleston SC, Upstate NY, Pearl Harbor HI, and Bremerton WA. I was in the Navy from 2015-2021. I served onboard a submarine as a mechanist mate nuclear. I am a mechanical engineering major and a student technician at the Applied Research Laboratory.

What does Veterans Day mean to you?

Veterans day, to me, is a day where we can pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we get to enjoy as American citizens.

What skills or lessons from your service have you brought to the UT community and used in your work or studies?

Before joining the Navy, I would consider myself small-minded and closed off to views that didn’t align with my own. While in the Navy, I was constantly surrounded by people I didn’t always see eye to eye with. I frequently found myself making friends with people I would have written off as a high school student. During my time of service, I learned that some of the best people you will meet in life are sometimes people that aren’t like you in any way. I now find myself constantly striving to be more inclusive to my peers and seeking friendships with people from all backgrounds. This has a lot of carry over to my college career. UT has people from all over the world, and I now look at every person I meet as an opportunity to gain perspective from someone who comes from a completely different walk of life.

UT Austin was recently ranked the No. 1 school for veterans in Texas. What, from your perspective, makes UT a world-class destination for veterans?

Since my first day in Austin, I have been invited into my fellow veterans’ tight-knit group after moving entirely across the country. The Student Veteran Services office has made it a point to reach out to me as I transitioned from active duty to a full-time student to ensure I was taken care of. I credit a lot of my success as a student to the inclusion and consideration they’ve extended to me since I stepped foot onto campus. In a sea of students at UT, it’s easy to get caught in a riptide, and the student veteran office has kept my head above water.

During or after your service, who would you say was your best mentor?

During my time in the Navy, I learned a lot about leadership. Some people in charge of me often ruled with an iron fist. This style of leadership always resulted in insubordination from the people they led. On the other side of the spectrum, I encountered leaders who made it a point to show mutual respect and understanding. This tactic always leads to increased morale and productivity. One person I met in the Navy was a Chief Petty Officer named Brian Rubenstrunk. He really took me under his wing and would provide me with insightful guidance about life in and outside of the Navy. To this day, I know I can call him anytime I need help or just some mentorship.