A decorated Marine and Brookfield resident who runs the University of Connecticut’s program to help other military members become entrepreneurs has been appointed to lead veterans’ outreach and support initiatives at the UConn School of Business.
Michael Zacchea, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient who holds an MBA from UConn, will coordinate programs to recruit and support veterans and help them with job placement, continuing education, career planning, and other services.
Zacchea also continues in his role as director of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which welcomes a new group of participants to UConn this fall. UConn is among eight prominent business schools offering the bootcamp in collaboration with the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.
“We are thrilled to have Mike Zacchea on board for this very important post. His outreach to the veteran community is vital to our continued support of veterans in regard to continuing education and job placement,” said James R. Lowe, assistant dean of the UConn School of Business.
“This, coupled with Mike’s leadership of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), completes a robust offering of services to this valued community,” Lowe said.
Zacchea, a native of Long Island, N.Y., who now lives in Brookfield, will work with programs and veterans at all of UConn’s campuses.
As a veteran himself who dealt with both physical and mental difficulties after returning from Iraq, Zacchea feels he is perfect for the role of helping other soldiers return to civilian life after active duty.
“Just about every veteran has some sort of issue,” he said. “It takes time to adjust.”
His team and the Iraqi army battalion it trained were involved in heavy combat many times. They included an incident in which he was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2005 and received shrapnel in his shoulder and a traumatic brain injury, which required him to undergo several years of rehabilitation.
“I was a mess, physically and emotionally, in a lot of ways,” Zacchea said of returning home. “I had difficulty holding a job.”
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Looking for a place to settle, Zacchea and his family moved to Brookfield to be near family in town and in Bethel. He contacted Connecticut’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs with an interest in working as an advocate for former soldiers.
“I believe that, being a marine, leadership is a difference maker,” he said. “I want to help people get through things that I’ve dealt with.
According to Zacchea, Connecticut is currently eighth worst among states in veteran employment rates at 15 percent, and rising as high as 30 percent for vets of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some specific goals in his new position with the School of Business include creating coherent policies to help veterans locate educational opportunities, job training and other services they need. He also wants to advocate for creating certain non-degree certificate programs to help veterans bolster their knowledge and give them an edge in the job market.
“The current business community mis-values the contribution of veterans in the workforce,” Zacchea said.
To that end, he is helping to spearhead two new initiatives: Veterans Upward Bound, which assists vets from economically underprivileged areas with qualifying for four-year universities like UConn, and the Re-Entry Program, which focuses on soldiers that have been unemployed for two years or more, helping them to gain useful civilian skills through non-degree programs.
Currently, Zacchea is working to place some 450 students in the right careers, all of them veterans.
Zacchea received the U.S. Small Business Administration’s award as 2012 Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year for his work with the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities.
“I’m very happy to tell the story about UConn and its service to veterans because UConn has been so good to me in terms of returning and re-integrating and planning my future,” Zacchea said. “We’re doing so much at UConn to re-engineer the student veterans’ experience and recognize them as a specific constituency with unique needs.”
Zacchea was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1990 and served in Somalia and Haiti before being deployed in 2004 as a major to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom II. His military awards include the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Purple Heart Medal, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, and many unit and campaign awards.
He was an analyst for Morgan Stanley before enrolling in UConn’s MBA program, where he specialized in entrepreneurial marketing.
“The university is becoming a leading institution for creating solutions for veterans returning to Connecticut,” Zacchea said of accepting the position. Though small in comparison, “We hope to be able to become an example for other states.”
UConn Media Relations Associate Stephanie Reitz contributed to this report.