Bridging the gap between military service and becoming a civilian university student isn’t always easy for our nation’s veterans. That’s why Veteran Student Services (VSS)—formerly Vets to Vets—in Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS) works to make those transitions easier for UMBC’s own veteran population.
Air Force veteran Donovan Garrett ‘19, business technology administration, switched to the reserves in order to attend school full time. He joined VSS in December 2016 as an undergraduate assistant so he could help other veterans make the leap. Since then, he has worked to find ways of serving the community he is so much a part of.
“What we’ve done in OCSS is revamp the program to where we’re a lot more active in the veteran community,” said Garrett, whose focus is helping UMBC’s more than 550 veterans make real connections with people and resources on campus. “Not only with the benefits, but with the way we reach out.”
The semester begins with a welcome event and tour of the campus, with introductions to people who can help them in all aspects of their time at UMBC, including academic advising, health services, and career planning.
“We organize a resume/transitional outlook workshop to prepare them for the Career Fair later on in the year,” said Garrett. “Christine Routzahn—the director at the Career Center—met with the veterans a few weeks before the Career Fair to review their resumes, and help them translate their military service skills into a civilian workforce-style resume.”
VSS also builds community by offering fun social opportunities for vets—like monthly coffee talks, movie nights, and games of laser tag—as well as November Veterans Week events that build awareness of veteran issues, including mental health services.
“It’s something that has helped us create community and consistency in the community, and hopefully it will help us grow our number of veterans served each semester,” he said.
Support For Those Who Serve
Randy Deinlein ‘19, mechanical engineering, says it’s helpful to be around other students with similar life experiences.
“Veteran Student Services reiterates that I am not the only one that is in my situation,” he said. “Being an adult learner or a non-traditional student, sometimes it’s hard to relate to other students, because we’re older and tend to have more real life experiences…Just being around other veterans in and of itself has supported me and encouraged me to complete my goal.”
Alleviating isolation among veterans is only one part of the equation. The GI Bill has helped many veterans go to college, but it doesn’t cover all financial burdens. In 2016 the Leslie and Courtney Wilson Fund for Veterans was established through a bequest to provide support for veterans attending UMBC who are experiencing financial difficulty. This can include funds to help a veteran pay for a fifth year of school; finance a veteran’s graduate degree at UMBC; or allow VSS to hire additional graduate assistants.
“My father was a World War II vet,” said Leslie Wilson ’74, MA ’76, psychology. “He always taught us that we were very fortunate and a privileged family because of the opportunity he was given to go to college on the GI Bill. As a family we knew that his service changed his trajectory of his life and ours. My father’s dreams had never included anything like a successful career at Westinghouse until his Navy experiences revealed that he had a very strong talent in radar and engineering. I wanted to do what I could to support today’s veterans, to pass it on, and make sure that they have the ability to make their dreams come true. Veterans have a lot to offer, and I want their families to have the opportunity to have a better life.”
“Coming back—after a number of years serving in that capacity—anything we can do to help them reintegrate, re-educate, and jump start their careers is really where my heart is,” said Courtney Wilson. “Both of us having a heart for people that have served our country is really the incentive for us to step up and support the program.”
Veteran Student Services will continue to make improvements in the coming year as the new director of OCSS, M. Antonio Silas, works to strengthen the veteran community and realize his vision for the program with more veteran-specific programming and a peer-to-peer program to help veterans become more acclimated to student life.
“If we are not serving our veterans like we serve everyone else I believe we’ve failed as an institution,” said Silas. “They deserve to have a world class education like everyone else.”
– Eddie Jenkins
Header image: Donovan Garrett ’19 helps a veteran student in the office of Veteran Student Services. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC Magazine.