Serving Those Who Served: Four Ways to Create a Veteran-Friendly CampusJoyce McConnell | Provost, West Virginia University
Anna Hickey is in her 17th year of active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard. Just this fall, she also became a business administration doctoral student at West Virginia University.
Greg Shafer grew up in a rural town named Duck, joined the U.S. Marines and rose to the rank of sergeant. A Purple Heart recipient, Greg is now a student in our Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
Bobby Davis, too, was a U.S. Marine sergeant, serving a year in Iraq and then a year in Afghanistan. He never envisioned going to college. But here he is at WVU, studying diplomacy.
These three remarkable students are among the 1,000-plus veterans, military personnel and dependents furthering their education and lives at WVU.
As a result of the post-9/11 surge in military operations, thousands of newly discharged men and women across the country are seeking out life’s next journey.
A record number of veterans are turning to higher education and it can be a tough transition for them.
Often, the structured, uniform rhythms of military life stick with veterans long after they have left the service. Because most recruits join the military immediately following high school, the civilian adult world, including the college environment, can seem foreign to many student veterans. The training and expertise acquired during their service also may not be easily transferrable to civilian life.
This is where we, as higher education leaders, must step in.
At WVU, a public, land-grant institution, we are passionately committed to engaging—and graduating—students of all backgrounds, and to successfully graduating student veterans who come to us from all branches of the military and with many areas of interest and expertise.
Many of these veterans represent America’s greatest untapped talents. They bring maturity, loyalty and a rigorous work ethic to our campuses. In return, we offer them the tools to adjust to college life and to achieve meaningful post-military careers.
Over the last several years, WVU has consistently ranked as a top university for military veterans. We have been named in the Military Times Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings. We also remain among the top 60 best colleges for veterans according to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings. Our College of Business and Economics is number 8 in its Best Online Graduate Business Programs for Veterans.
What are we doing that’s any different from any other university in the country? Here are just some of the ways we are making WVU a welcoming place for our veterans:
1. We Instituted the Yellow Ribbon Program
Our University offers the Yellow Ribbon program in all of our schools and colleges. The program, an extension of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, helps veteran students pay their tuition.
2. We Offer Specialized Classes
Carolyn Atkins, a professor of speech pathology and audiology, teaches a public speaking class designed for veterans. Each semester, the class culminates in a public “Veterans Speak Out” event, in which students share defining personal stories ranging from combat experiences to adjustment to civilian life.
Our outdoor orientation program, Adventure WV, conducts kayaking, rock climbing and camping trips especially for student veterans. Some programs have specific goals and curricula aimed at helping veterans succeed academically, while others are less structured and are aimed at building camaraderie and a sense of connection among the student veterans.
Additionally, the English Department offers veteran-friendly sections of our introductory English classes, 101 and 102. These writing-intensive courses can be difficult for student veterans as they begin to write about their military experiences, but they can also be opportunities for veterans to learn how to express themselves and document their own lives. Veteran-friendly sections, though open to all students, are taught by instructors who have undergone extra training to become more aware of veteran students’ needs.
3. We Provide STEM-specific Tutoring
Earlier this year, we established one of the nation’s first individualized science, technology, engineering and math tutoring programs for veteran students. With the help of a $15,000 grant from AT&T, we purchased computers and supplies, covered lab fees, and paid tutors for subjects including engineering, physics, chemistry, math, biology and computer science.
4. We Connect Veterans to Campus
WVU employs a Veterans Advocate to be a liaison between students, campus departments, the VA and other government and outside agencies. Students can work with the Veterans Advocate to get questions and issues resolved, to receive assistance with initiating the Montgomery GI Bill and with calls to, and returns from, active duty. Our advocate acts as a one-stop-shop for our student veterans’ needs.
As Provost at WVU, I am proud to point to all the things that we are doing for student veterans. But I am even more proud to have these men and women on campus, honored that they have chosen WVU as the gateway through which they will enter the civilian workforce. Whatever path they choose to take, be it law or medicine, forestry or engineering, writing or teaching, we are committed to serving the student veterans who have already served us.
Author Perspective: Administrator