Learning to navigate one's way through a university can be difficult for any student. But veterans who recently returned from war can find the transition from soldier to student even more frustrating.
That is why The University of Texas-Pan American is working to make it easier for student veterans to enroll, stay in school and graduate. On April 23, the University's Veterans Services Center brought in Dr. Katherine Selber, a professor in the School of Social Work at Texas State University in San Marcos, to speak to UTPA employees about how they can provide aid to service members who return to school. Selber has helped start programs at Texas State University that assist veterans and their families adjust to life after war.
During a two-hour presentation, Selber discussed how veterans can come back from war feeling depressed, angry and isolated from everyone. They also can find the less-structured atmosphere of a university difficult in which to acclimate, coming from a more regimented schedule in the military, she said.
Relatives and other loved ones of veterans can also find it hard to adjust to their new lives with the service members.
That is why it is important for universities to have its different divisions work together, as well as form partnerships with outside organizations to make the transition easier for these students, Selber said.
At Texas State University, Selber helped found that institution's Veterans Advisory Council - composed of faculty and staff from all over campus - which works to help veterans with all aspects of university life.
"We always try to be centered on what they need," Selber said.
Student veterans may be reluctant to pursue services because of the stigma associated with seeking help, but nonetheless the support should be in place for if and when they do, she said.
"You can build it, but they won't necessarily come," she said.
One way to encourage student veterans to seek services is by hosting events to honor them and other service members. Texas State University, for example, hosts a monthly luncheon for student veterans, she said.
The council also formed a partnership with the university's health professions college to provide sleep clinics for student veterans and the university began having orientations and seminars catered to them, she said.
"Every piece of the puzzle builds a campus that is more veteran friendly," Selber said. Elda Arriaga, who works in the University's financial aid office, said she found the presentation very helpful because she assists veterans every day.
Arriaga said it surprised her that there are limited services available to veterans in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Having (services) here on campus would benefit our students," she said.
The Veterans Services Center opened in August to help service members receive benefits offered through the G.I. Bill so they can enroll in higher education. But the center is looking to expand to offer more assistance to veterans from the time they enroll to the time they receive their degrees, said Noel Ysasi, Veterans Services Center manager.
There are more than 600 student veterans enrolled at UTPA and in fall 2010 that number is expected to double, Ysasi said.
"I've always been a firm believer that veterans encompass their own culture," he said. "We have to be able to understand this culture (in order to) become a more veteran-friendly university."
Ysasi said he wants UTPA to be known for its support and advocacy of veterans. The University already has a veteran students group formed, as well as a National Honor Society for them. Faculty, students and staff recently cleaned the veterans memorial in McAllen as part of a service project to show their support for those who have served or are still serving in the military, Ysasi said.
"We honor these veterans, we care about them and we're going to do everything possible to make sure we do everything we can do for them," he said.
For more information, contact Ysasi at 956/316-7934.