Texas A&M University is now known as one of the most military and veteran friendly universities in the nation and is a premiere location for many veterans seeking higher education after their military service. However, many are unprepared for the mental transition it takes to go from active military duty to a being student in the classroom. The Division of Student Affairs’ Veteran Resource & Support Center (VRSC) provides personal, all-inclusive support to Aggie veterans and their families by not only supporting them while on campus, but before and after becoming a Texas A&M student.
While many students experience a traditional sequential transition into college, most veterans experience multiple overlapping transitions. Adjusting to civilian life can be difficult for most, but the addition of leaving a full time job to pursue an education as an older adult is strenuous, especially when those veterans have families as well. Col. Gerald “Jerry” L. Smith, USMC (Ret.) and Director of the VRSC elaborates by saying, “Veterans come from a world of “push” mentality in the military. Schedules, regimentation and chain of command are critical for success and create an environment where everything is provided and directed for the betterment of military members. Higher education, on the other hand, is a world of “pull.” There is less rigorous structure and more personal freedom and expression. In university settings the student must find and seek out what they need. While asking for help in the military is considered weak, asking for help in higher education is a sign of maturity. This mental contrast is where many veterans struggle.”
Tallon Dillard, a current student veteran, explains the struggles that he and many other veterans go through while adjusting to civilian life by saying, “I faced many struggles whilst leaving the US Army. I was medically retired from the US Army after 8 years of service due to injuries sustained while in service. Upon leaving the Army I honestly had no clue what I was supposed to do with life. I was in the mix of struggling with health issues related to my military service and I was having a hard time staying motivated and connected with school. It was here at Texas A&M University that I found my true calling in what I was supposed to do now. My new mission as it were. I chose to attend this university because the traditions and history resonated with me in a deep way, much like the traditions and history of the infantry. It gave me a sense of pride and honor again, something I felt I had lost when I left the service.”
By having a firm understanding of the unique needs that veterans have, the VRSC is developing a transition toolkit, which begins with the Military Admissions Program. The two full-time admissions liaisons are solely dedicated to supporting prospective military affiliated students through the admissions process and also helping them to apply for academic credit for military experience. They also work with the US Marine Corps Leader-Scholar Program and other programs to help identify service members who are college-bound prior to their separation from the military. Zack Butler a current student veteran reflects on his experience by saying, “I spent 3 ½ years in the United States Navy where I was Corpsman stationed at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. Ever since I was 10 years old I dreamed about going to Texas A&M. I started communicating with Karen Allen about a year before I got in. She was essential in helping me identify what I needed to get done to be able to achieve my dream of getting into Texas A&M.”
The support did not end there for Butler who continues by saying, “The transition process into school was difficult, but the VRSC was a big help. They have been there to offer me a place to study and like-minded people to talk to. The VetConnect events that the VRSC puts on are very beneficial to all veterans. I recently received a scholarship because of an opportunity presented at one of these events.” In conjunction with the VetConnect events, the VRSC also offers current students Peer Advising for Veteran Education (PAVE) as part of the transition toolkit. PAVE is a formally structured peer mentoring program that connects incoming student veterans with veteran peers to provide support, help in navigating college life and identify any current challenges they face and referring them to the appropriate resources on or off campus.
The VRSC does not end its support once student veterans graduate, but continues with its Aggie Veteran Network (AVN). The AVN connects Aggie student veterans, dependents, military families and veteran faculty and staff with each other, campus resources and external organizations. With nearly 500 active contacts the AVN enthusiastically links Aggie student veterans with high-impact opportunities that support other veterans and the local community. Col. Smith further explains the importance of these programs by stating, “The VRSC’s vision is to offer a full range of support beginning at application, orientation, graduation and on to vocation. Student veterans bring a wide variety of strengths to the university. They carry with them leadership, maturity, communication skills, and diverse experiences. Where the VRSC plays an important role is helping them focus on identifying and applying their strengths.”
Currently, Texas A&M University has over 1,200 student veterans and at least 500 veterans or active duty military on the faculty and staff. These men and women embody the Core Values Texas A&M holds in such high regard and the selfless-service the VRSC offers in return is just a small part the Division of Student Affairs and the University as a whole is doing to serve those who have served us.
Written by: Courtney Rhodes