Connolly: Making a difference for Military Services at UNO

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Elizabeth Kontich

Mike Connolly, the director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services, is no stranger to following tradition and serving his country, both personally and professionally.

“As a little kid, I saw my father in his Army National Guard uniform doing drills,” Connolly said. “I wanted to be the same.”

Connolly said his grandfather was also a part of one of the Army units that liberated the Dachau concentration camp in World War II.

The Silver Springs, Maryland, native joined the Army National Guard in 2003 and served two tours in Iraq, from 2005-2006 and 2007-2008. Connolly moved to Omaha in 2011 when he married his wife, who is from an Air Force family in the Omaha area.

Connolly said he started to work in the Office of Military and Veteran Services in the spring of 2013, when he was working on his bachelor’s degree in political science. He said he intended to just work as a staff assistant while he was earning his degree, but the director position opened up and Connolly was named interim director.

Dr. James Freeman, senior director of Inclusion and director of Multicultural Affairs, said Connolly was “the right hire at the right time.”

As director, Connolly helped UNO rise to the #1 rank for military friendliness in 2015, but for Eric Velander and other students, Connolly’s work with individual students is more important.

Velander, an Air Force veteran and a student at UNO, said he appreciates all Connolly does for the office of Military and Veteran Services and the fact that Connolly is “open to students to come in and talk” at any time.

“I look up to him a lot,” Velander said. “I see big things in his future.”

Connolly completed his bachelor’s degree in 2014 and earned his master’s degree in political science in 2015, both while he was working at the Office of Military and Veteran Services. Connolly said political science had “always been one of his first loves” and he has been politically active for most of his life.

He said his participation in politics began during his tours in Iraq when he “began to see firsthand the impacts of our policies.” Connolly said he wanted to be a part of the policy formation process because policies have a large impact on everyone.

Connolly’s passion for political science and national defense is prevalent in his professional and personal lives. In his spare time, Connolly said he is active in political work and writes political op-eds for “The Hill,” “Task & Purpose,” and other political publications.

He said his focus in his political work is domestic politics and national security, and his work and expertise has lead Connolly to be selected for participation in the Truman National Security Project as a member of the Defense Council.

The Truman Project’s Defense Council is a leadership development program for leaders who have served in the military or defense communities, according to the Truman Project website. The website also states that candidates for the project are selected due to their desire and ability to influence politics and public opinion, as well as demonstrate leadership potential for the long-haul.

Both Freeman and Velander agree that Connolly has the skills to go far in his political work.

“I think his potential is unlimited,” Freeman said. “I am proud to say I know him.”