Student Veterans Organization members, pictured above, help veterans transition to student life. Photo by Greg Clark.
The Student Veteran Organization (SVO) at the University of Rhode Island has grown in the last two years to provide resources to student veterans on campus.
The SVO’s goal is to help facilitate successful veteran transition into civilian student life.
There are roughly 300 identified student veterans on URI’s Kingston campus. Student veterans are identified through their use of GI Bill benefits or through self-identification through admissions.
The Director of Veteran Affairs and Military Programs, Racheal Garcia, believes that when someone is coming out of the military within the last three to 20 years, and into the University, they consider that as pre-transition admission time, meaning that veterans don’t necessarily see that as a transition yet.
“It’s almost college as a means to the beginning of their transition,” Garcia said. “What we’re trying to do is that we’re trying to change that into understanding that this is a transition period and to take advantage of all the resources available to them.”
The SVO has grown into a 55-member club over the years. The resources are not only available to student veterans but also any dependants or military family members.
“My primary purpose is dealing with student veterans and their families,” Garcia said. “However, I’m identifying faculty and staff as veterans or dependants, or allies even. So, anybody who has had an affiliation with the military or veteran culture, it is important to make sure that we all come together.”
One of the primary purposes of the SVO is making sure that student veterans and dependants are aware of the financial resources available on campus and encouraging them to apply. This is in addition of getting their GI Bill benefits.
“We have the W.J. Cummings Scholarship here at URI, and that was developed a long time ago,” Garcia said. “We have now identified people in the fellowships and internships department to help facilitate the applications process. They will do one on ones with a dependant or a veteran and we separate them from veteran only scholarships that specify if you are from the Army, Navy or all branches of service or what have you.”
“We also have EDC 278 course which is a transitional class,” Garcia said. “It is taught every single semester. This is essentially a resource management course and it identifies specific resources and programs that the University has to offer to all students, not just veteran students, because veterans don’t typically go to an orientation program.”
The SVO has also partnered with other resources within and outside the campus to support the needs of student veterans.
“We’ve partnered with the ACLU, Young Republicans, Young Democrats and the Student Senate,” Garcia said. “We go to outside organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars to help us with all our event planning and fundraising. We’re working on a lot of events to make sure that people feel like they’re included, like movie nights, fundraising events, bowling events and even a free scuba diving certification course.”
Though the University already offers many resources for student veterans, the members of the SVO have also recognized many places that can be improved to make the services offered to student veterans much better.
“With student veterans, I have commonly identified three different types,” Marland Chang, member of the SVO said. “You have the more traditional aged college student who is using their parents’ veteran benefits and they get along with other students easily. The other two are the stereotypical image of a veteran. They’ve been to active duty or deployments or you have the category that is fresh out of basic or recently transitioned from military service. We haven’t been in a traditional school setting for a very long time.”
Chang also shared the uses of having a veteran resource center on campus. He believes that actively recruiting student veterans and making sure that they have the support structure and infrastructure within the University can ensure their academic success.
Chang highlights that the veterans resource center is housed within an infrastructure that is open to the entire student body.
“I have student veterans telling me that they don’t use the gym at Fascitelli because they don’t feel comfortable around the younger kids,” Chang said. “Same thing with Health Services and the Counselling Center. This is more at a national level though.”
With a new advocate and advisor, the SVO has been successfully able to help navigate the needs of the veterans while at the same time acknowledging that it is still a work in progress.
“Through the transition process it’s a lot of trying to understand and navigating the University,” Garcia said, “And trying to understand that it is not just a ‘go home, go to school’ process. It’s a ‘lets try to figure all this out together’ kind of idea.”