By Michael Christian Escudie,
Recently, the VA has shared that student veterans are indeed atypical college students. Student veterans are older, are working, and more than likely already have their own family. They also bring with them to the classroom a wealth of wisdom and experiences. Instructors with student veterans are no doubt aware of what makes this particular cohort so valuable and rewarding in the classroom.
In my various military-affiliated roles, I have been exposed to many dedicated people who are either instructors or working in their schools’ veteran support offices. These offices are known as the “Office of Veteran Success,” the “Office of Military and Veteran Student Services” or the “Office of Veterans & Military Resources,” etc. Additionally, for veterans when they graduate, some universities, such as Drexel, even have a veteran alumni network.
My experiences have impressed upon me how dedicated the people, staff and volunteers are at these offices. These offices are often underfunded, dependent on donations and some are tucked away bureaucratically in a university’s organizational chart, which limits their awareness internally and their effectiveness.
As an instructor, and as a graduate student who shared classrooms with an abundance of fellow veterans, I found that we all have a role in advising student veterans on how they may best prepare themselves for success. Success both inside and outside the classroom. I’ll highlight three things I have reliably discussed with veterans recently and hope that you may consider them in earnest or share what you may have to offer on this subject.
Do You Know What Your Institution is Offering Student Veterans?
First, instructors must familiarize themselves with what specifically their school is offering student veterans. In meetings with directors of campus offices who support student veterans, many have shared the surprise both students and faculty have mentioned when apprised of all the resources that are available. For example, some schools offer military discounts or grants which are beyond offerings such as the Yellow Ribbon Program. Tuition as a doctoral student may also be discounted by grants offered during the first year of classes. Some offices have access to a stable of willing and eager volunteers who help plan events such as Veterans Day celebrations. These volunteering veterans also serve as mentors to student veterans. These offices also may have relationships with local businesses that seek student veterans as interns or eventual employees.
One revelation from office staff is that there are limited resources to identify student veterans and encourage them to engage with their offices. One office director mentioned that during their search for student veterans, they felt a need to walk around campus recruiting, or show up at student gatherings and even build a kiosk on campus that highlighted their office. And you can add other fellow faculty and staff, some of them veterans themselves, to those who were mentioned as being unaware of what a potentially influential role these offices have for student veterans.
Consistent Professional Development and Keeping up with Trends
Second, instructors should strive to be more cognizant of current trends in education and self-improvement which may help student veterans succeed. One example is sharing with student veterans the availability of (often free) certification programs. I recently attended a four-week course offered by a veterans’ nonprofit that awards disabled veterans, upon completion, a certificate in entrepreneurship. Instructors can even participate in free certification courses such as a “Best Practices in Online Pedagogy” course offered by the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Keeping up with Student Veteran Policies and Programs
Third, being cognizant of matters affecting student veterans might also involve staying current with new and changing government programs offered to veterans. For example, since more student veterans are already married and have families, perhaps there is merit in being aware of the recent “Executive Order on Advancing Economic Security for Military and Veteran Spouses, Military Caregivers, and Survivors.” The Pentagon noted in June that this executive order was designed to strengthen economic opportunities for military and veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors.
As an instructor, to further enlighten myself about what may prepare me to be a better instructor in the eyes of student veterans, I found a recent resource from U.S. News & World Report which broke down how they how ranked colleges with benefits for veterans and active-duty service members. Two intriguing factors offered in their “Best Colleges for Veterans Methodology” were expert opinion and utilizing innovative approaches to teaching in their instruction. These qualifiers were partially guided by peer evaluations and surveys. Just those two factors may deserve a column of their own when furthering discussion on this topic. What are your certain experiences, or vignettes, from your time engaging with student veterans?
This article was originally published on HigherEdMilitary.