State Department security officer Mark Lenzi was medevacked last June from Guangzhou, China, where he had been working in the U.S. Consulate. Lenzi said he and his family had been experiencing classic post-concussion symptoms such as headaches, short term memory loss, irritability and bloody noses for several months before evacuating their apartment.
Lenzi is one of approximately 40 other U.S. diplomats who had been stationed in China or Cuba who experienced these concussion symptoms that, according to Lenzi, are most likely due to hostile actions taken by a third-party country using unidentified weaponry to impair these diplomats.
Despite frustration that Lenzi said he has faced in recovering from his injury and in coming to terms with the lengths to which the State Department went to cover it up, he said he has begun to see his situation in a positive light. He said his recovery process, thanks to University of New Hampshire (UNH) Sports Psychologist Tim Churchard, has taught him about the importance of open mindedness, dealing with adversity and confronting challenges.
According to Lenzi, counseling sessions between him and Churchard, paired with other services given to him by the university, have allowed him to open his mind to treatments for his injury that he was initially unaccepting of. They have also inspired him to take action and give back to UNH in repayment for all it has done for him during his recovery process, including giving him the mental strength to go on the record and appear on 60 Minutes. Lenzi also credits the university’s athletic department and his former track and field coach Jim Boulanger, who still coaches for the team, for their efforts in aiding his recovery.
Lenzi’s plan is to start a scholarship fund at UNH that will allow students studying engineering or other sciences to dual-major in a subject that falls under the realm of the College of Liberal Arts. According to Lenzi, the foundation would allow for several students to receive scholarships giving them a fifth year of education for free so that they may complete both majors.
Lenzi said that, in hindsight, he wishes he could have paired his engineering degree from UNH with a liberal arts major, even though he believes he might have laughed at the idea as a college student. He added that there are significant benefits that a liberal arts degree can have on one’s career.
“We need more well-rounded people,” Lenzi said. “Hopefully this scholarship [will] have a tremendous impact. Speaking as a U.S. diplomat, [well-rounded people could] make structures in the U.S. stronger.”
Churchard, who has been meeting with Lenzi once a week for one hour in his office in UNH’s Field House, has been helping him to regain trust in the system, to keep an open mind and to decide what things he must let go of. Churchard teaches Women’s Studies 403, Gender Issues in College Sports, a class in which he teaches students to see issues from all perspectives and understand concepts of racism, sexism, violence and white male privilege. His value of open-mindedness is something that he has learned from his parents and from a martial arts teacher he once had. Lenzi said that Churchard is an inspiration for and has played a large role in the idea to start the scholarship.
“With sciences and athletics, it’s easy to get swallowed up in it if that’s the only thing in your life,” Churchard said. “I try to dodge closed minds. There is so much to learn from people… I like being open with people and I like to be confronted.”
Lenzi said that he has never met anyone like Churchard. As a college student, Lenzi was unable to comprehend the concept of white male privilege, but Churchard, an older, white male who used to play both football and hockey at the university when he attended it nearly 50 years ago, has helped him to understand.
“To be able to have a conversation with Tim is invaluable,” Lenzi said about Churchard. “It will make you a better you.”
Lenzi, who has served with the Peace Corps and supported presidential candidates like John McCain and Hillary Clinton for their national service plans, and Churchard, who believes “the more we are given, the more we owe,” are both passionate about giving back to the UNH community, which they said has given a lot to them. Lenzi said he believes that the scholarship fund he hopes to start will be an effective means of doing this.
UNH, per Lenzi, prepared him academically for his future, but was not as prepared in terms of properly working with minorities and foreign cultures. Lenzi said that although this is hard to teach, teachers like Churchard and classes like the women’s studies class that he teaches, could be beneficial in guiding students to more effectively work with others who are unlike themselves. The scholarship fund could allow students who might not otherwise do so to take classes like this and learn life skills like open-mindedness.
Still working to pledge support, Lenzi encourages those interested in contributing to the fund to reach out to him directly at MLenzi@alumni.unh.edu via email. Lenzi added that he hopes the foundation will be completed within the next year as long as UNH “provides the room” for it. With support already received from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other high-level politicians nationwide, Lenzi said that the rest of the process will soon be underway.
“It will happen,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”