**Names and location have been changed for anonymity**
Since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been record numbers of veterans returning from war and heading to college. This is because the government created a special bill that would pay all the cost of a four-year degree. Since this bills creation it has helped more than 860,000 veterans go to school.
These veterans aren’t like traditional students, however. Many have been to war and have emotional or physical scarring. Many of the veterans are older than traditional students and aren’t accustomed to life outside the military. These students come with their own set of needs and colleges are attempting to find ways to accommodate the growing number of student veterans.
G. University is one college that has found a way to successfully integrate its veterans into civilian and student life. Victory Media publishes a list each year honoring the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are “doing the most to embrace military service members, veterans and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus” and G. University has made that list for the fifth consecutive year.
The data Victory Media collected was from a survey of more than 10,000 Veteran Affair approved schools nationwide. The findings are compiled and weighted according to the following categories to determine a final score:
24 percent military support on campus; 20 percent academic credibility; 10 percent of military students enrolled; ten percent academic credit for military service; ten percent flexibility for military students; five percent for veteran graduation rates; five percent for student tuition assistance; five percent on results of a student survey; five percent for military spouse policies; and one percent on government approval.
There are a number of things G. University has done to help ensure their student veterans are getting the support they need to succeed. In every department of the school there are designated primary contacts to help with issues pertaining to veteran struggles.
Melanie works in admissions and is the contact person for veterans. “We have a group called the Veterans Network which is made up of experts in their designated areas that come together to support the specific needs of folks in the military,” she said. “I’m just the contact point for admissions, as there is no one person in charge of recruiting veterans to campus. In fact, most of our veterans are transfer students,” she said.
Melanie said there is anywhere from 250 to 400 undergraduate applicants each year that indicate they are active military, veterans or dependents or spouses of someone serving in the military.
According to the Registrar’s office at G. University, veteran enrollment over the past 20 years since every fall from 1994 to 2003 has averaged 250 student veterans. However, after the post 9/11 bill was introduced in fall 2009 enrollment doubled from the prior year and has still continued to grow.
Nicholas works in personal, professional and career assistance at G. University and has been designated as the department’s veteran contact. His job has two main components, the first is providing personal counseling and the second is providing career counseling.
“I often work with veterans presenting with deployment or reintegration concerns,” he said. “I also have experience working with trauma survivors and often help veterans cope with difficulties related to their military involvement,” he said.
“In career counseling, I focus on helping veterans who are confused about their career path or deciding on a major. This often includes self-exploration, finding congruent careers and majors, researching careers, and developing a career plan,” he said. “Also, I have helped veterans identify ways to translate their military experience to strengthen their marketability in the job search process.”
Nicholas said between the two positions the main focus of his work with veterans and service members is being a resource and support for any career or personal concerns and connecting them with helpful university and community resources.
G. University has also created a Veterans Network, which includes a designated lounge area in the K. Center, for student veterans to study, relax, and meet other veterans. The lounge was dedicated by President T.H. on Nov. 11 of this year and it includes a TV, walls adorned with past military medals, and a spacious area for individuals to meet.
The Veterans Network has meetings every Wednesday where they discuss military related issues or just come to enjoy each others’ company. Christopher spent eight years in the Army and is now a freshman at G. University and he serves as the Veterans Network’s secretary and risk manager. He says his personal experiences working with G. University veteran liaisons has been positive and the staff has done a fantastic job but there are some things he would like to see change.
“The only thing I believe G. University needs to do is to advertise the service a bit more throughout the campus and not just through email,” he said. “We are pushing a population of 600 veterans and I believe many don’t even know about the services provided or even that there is a student veteran’s organization here on campus,” he said.
Duane is also a veteran on campus. He served four years in the Air Force and is still in the reserves and his transition to G. University in the summer of 2012 was very smooth. “The veteran aids were great,” he said. “They answered all my questions and signing up for classes and doing funding paperwork was really easy.”
There’s another new group on G. University’s campus starting winter semester called G. University Military Support, which aims to provide a place for wives, girlfriends, or children of active or inactive duty military members to gather and meet one another.
Alexandra is the student on campus that started the group. Her husband has been in the Army National Guard for six years and she says she has felt like part of a minority since she began at G. University.
“It can be difficult to initially fit into a new group of young people simply because they don’t understand how we think and feel,” Furman said. “It was my goal to find a group here at G. University that catered to military significant others for support, friendship and information. When I was informed there was no such group here, that’s when I started this journey of branching out to men and women like myself,” she said.
“It’s not easy to network for a group of military significant others, especially since those that aren’t spouses aren’t technically attached to any of the service members info, but that’s why this group is so crucial,” she said. “The people who are nothing significant in the military’s eyes are in need of the same support, friendship and information, and my hopes for this Military Support group is that we can reach out to other significant others and raise awareness of yet another source of diversity on campus,” Alexandra said.
Julie is a wife of a medically retired Army combat medic and a member of the new group and she feels it’s about time there was a group like this. “I think G. University focuses more on the veterans and tends to forget about the family members that are affected by the veteran,” she said. “I feel the military spouse group will be a great asset to G. University because it will allow the women to have an outlet and to interact with others who are in the same boat as them,” she said.
“We are non-traditional students and it’s difficult to feel like we fit in when we have been through so much,” she said.
Nicole shares those sentiments. Her boyfriend has been active duty in the Air Force since 2012 and she’s relieved G. University is finally recognizing significant others of military members.
“I feel like everyone likes the fact I have a man in a uniform but they don’t understand that you’re not doing it for the uniform, you’re doing it for the person,” she said. “I do get depressed when I see my friends with their boyfriends on campus and how easy it is for them to hang out with their boyfriends every night. It’s really hard for me and I feel like my friends don’t understand just how hard it is so I think this network will help a lot!”
Amanda’s husband has been active duty in the Army for seven months and she says she has felt isolated on campus but hopes that will change with the new group. “I mostly feel isolated due to not many people being able to understand,” she said. “I’m hoping it will allow me to connect with more people that understand what I’m going through.”
G. University’s President T.H. believes G. University’s is doing a good job incorporating veterans but he wants to continue improving.
“As we look ahead we see more veterans coming back to civilian life and many of them have skills and values needed in the workplace. G. University wants to serve those who have served with offering opportunities for service members who have potential and the desire to achieve their degree,” he said.
“G. University has seen a dramatic increase in the number of veterans and they come from more than Michigan, therefore, our desire to offer in-state tuition to all veterans no matter which state they come from or are going to is important,” he said. “We have significantly improved our services to them in financial aid and in academic advising, as well as creating a welcoming university with the new Veteran Lounge,” Haas said.
“We continue to seek input from veterans, students, faculty and staff to ensure that we are doing the best we can in our service to our students and doing it right for the right reasons. We aim to create opportunities for those who have served us!”