University furthers efforts to assist veterans

Heather Linder and Heather Linder

Two weeks before his first-year orientation, Aaron Brown was on active duty in the Marine Corps.

He completed his four years of military service just in time for his first semester of classes on campus as a 22-year-old sophomore, majoring in early childhood education.

Ben Holcombe enlisted in the Army right out of high school, and he served in the military police from 2000 until 2005. He worked through Sept. 11, 2001 at his station in South Korea, and spent three years as a security officer in the underground Pentagon.

The 29-year-old business administration major began his freshman year last fall.

The veterans are just two of more than 400 on campus.

And, according to the University, Brown and Holcombe are less likely than other students to graduate on time or at all.

These students are known as “at risk,” meaning they have “factors that will negatively impact chances of successfully earning a bachelor’s degree,” said Barbara Henry, assistant vice president for Nontraditional Student and Transfer Student Services.

And, for Brown, fitting into the college demographic was challenging.

“You don’t really feel like you belong at times,” Brown said. “You’re used to having a specific purpose. Every day you had a mission to accomplish, and it’s getting in that different mindset.”

The risk factors include veterans’ age and prior experience and can make the transition from military personnel to college student rough.

“You learn real quick that you’re not 18-years-old anymore,” Holcombe said. “Just the fact you have any experience, that you know what’s going on in the world and you’ve done something with your life, you don’t realize that until you get back around people coming straight out of high school.”

Formerly, veterans were a largely unidentified student population.

But last May, Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services (NTSS), which serves as a resource to at risk student populations, expanded to also include a Department of Veterans Affairs.

A Student-Veteran task force was commissioned last spring by the Dean of Students to develop an action plan for veteran’s affairs.

The result: A 40-recommendation plan for identifying, educating and assisting student veterans.

Eric Buetikofer, a former nontraditional, transfer student and an Army veteran, was brought on board as an academic adviser to work with student veterans and implement the recommendations.

Three student workers, including Brown and Holcombe, were also hired to help veteran students.

Sixteen of the 40 criteria are completed or in progress, Buetikofer said, including adding a veteran checkbox to the University application, waiving the $30 admission fee for veterans and establishing a Blackboard community.

“One of the things I’m hoping the Blackboard community turns into is a virtual veteran’s student center, where they can get any information they need to know about,” he said.

“We can use it for communication to the student veteran population, which is something we’ve never been able to do before.”

NTSS’ main goals are to resolve problems, assist students and give advice on how to handle matters specific to veterans, such as applying for educational benefits from the G.I. Bill, properly withdrawing for classes if called to active duty and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, Henry said.

The office also provides a workshop series open to the public but specifically geared toward the needs of nontraditional students.

And this past Veterans Day, NTSS hosted a tailgate tent before the Miami football game. The event, which Henry called wildly successful, featured food from Fricker’s and allowed student veterans to meet, network and relate.

Eventually, Buetikofer hopes the University will have a club for veteran students to further their on-campus experience.

“It’s good to have a community because it’s one place where people can come to get a lot of information,” Brown said. “And [it helps] just getting in touch with other veterans. Once we come to school, we pretty much look like everybody else. We’re just a little more weathered.”