Volunteers at the St. George Greenmarket in Staten Island are hard at work. During a chilly Saturday morning, they distribute electronic benefit and SNAP cards for eligible customers to buy fresh produce. Most would be frazzled by the kitchen’s set up — camping stoves are precariously placed on plastic tables, and the recipes are only created once vendors and farmers arrive to the market with potential ingredients. Yet Steinhardt senior Nina Vizcarrondo is at ease chopping fruits and vegetables in the chaotic environment, something she said she learned to do while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I just go with the flow,” Vizcarrondo said. “I think that’s something I learned in the military — I just adapt.”
Before coming to NYU to study food and nutrition, Vizcarrondo was a food service specialist with the Coast Guard from 2010 to 2013. During her time as a Coast Guardsman she traveled to places including Alaska, California and Central America — where she met her husband. Now honorably discharged, Vizcarrondo is the president of the NYU Military Alliance, as well as a full-time student, wife and mother.
Vizcarrondo said she is grateful for the opportunity to experience other cultures through her service, something that inspired her interest in food security and economics in other countries. She also said her time serving among her shipmates taught her the importance of versatility and unity.
“When we’re deployed, we depend on each other for survival,” Vizcarrondo said. “We depend on each other, because who’s gonna save us? We’re in the middle of the ocean.”
Vizcarrondo’s passion for food and service with the Coast Guard translated easily on campus. She focuses her studies on food security and insecurity among U.S. veterans, and in the Military Alliance fosters a community for the hundreds of veteran and military students at NYU.
“The best thing I learned in the military was unity,” Vizcarrondo said. “Why aren’t we as unified? We get so caught up transitioning to the civilian life that we forget about it, about the support that we have for each other.”
This past November, Vizcarrondo helped organize NYU’s first ever Military & Veterans Appreciation Week, to create a space to honor those at NYU who have served and are serving. Student Resource Center assistant director Rollie Carencia, who oversees graduate student, military and veteran student populations, commended Vizcarrondo’s leadership skills in creating a dialogue about these students.
“Coming into this position and really assessing what programs and resources are available for military/veteran students and kind of seeing what NYU does in the spectrum of different activities and week-long celebrations, I didn’t see one for mil/vet, which was very interesting. ” Carencia said. “I just threw it out there. ‘I wonder what you think, what if we do a military veterans appreciation week,’ and I remember seeing Nina’s face lit up. And she was like, ‘Why haven’t we done it before?’”
Wagner student Pamela Campos, who serves with the U.S. Air Force, said Vizcarrondo’s efforts have helped to shape and unify the veteran community.
“I’ve seen visibility for veterans expand at a university-wide level, and I attribute that to Nina and those who support her,” Campos said.
On top of all of her responsibilities at school, her internship , volunteer hours and the Military Alliance, Vizcarrondo also commutes, taking a bus from Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, every morning to class and coming home to tuck in her 3-year-old son Carter at night.
“I feel so guilty, you know?” Vizcarrondo said. “I feel like I’m not balancing it right. It’s hard. I’m sure in January, when we don’t have school, I’m gonna feel guilty that I’m not at school or working. And when I’m at school I feel guilty that I’m not at home.”
Still, those who have worked with Vizcarrondo attest to her ability to balance her home and professional life.
“Nina is just one that takes on and takes on,” Carencia said. “She puts people before herself.”
Vizcarrondo hopes to pursue a Masters degree in either food policy or food economics. Because her husband is still an active Coast Guardsman, she does not yet know where her family will move next, or where she’ll attend graduate school. But as she finishes her senior year, one of her main goals is to continue fostering community for veterans at NYU.
“Thanks to the military I got to travel and witness how other cultures live,” Vizcarrondo said. “I’m hoping to inspire the new coming generation of veterans to keep this [Military Alliance] going.”