BY ALLISON OPSON CLEMENT NEWS EDITOR
The Veteran Success Center helps college students who’ve served in the military connect to each other and find resources they need.
It offers a space for the variety of presentations and meetings it hosts, as well as a hang-out area.
The center opened its own location in the Werner University Center earlier this year, and is growing as a resource to student veterans.
“There does need to be something out there for student veterans,” said Veterans Coordinator Kyle Rodgers. “College is hard for anybody.”
With the added challenges vets face re-entering academia, it’s important that they have somewhere to turn when they need help, he explained.
A 2012 study by the Colorado Workforce Development Council estimates that 3 percent of student veterans graduate from university; 88 percent drop out within their first year.
Rodgers says that those numbers may not an entirely accurate reflection of current trends, at Western in particular, but noted that such reports can highlight a major problem that needs to be addressed.
“Some of the stuff is pretty minor,” Rodgers said of the challenges student veterans have to deal with. “But then, some of the stuff is pretty serious.”
Cody Knight, veteran liaison, said that the age and experience gap between traditional students fresh out of high school and military veterans can create a huge divide.
The Veteran Success Center helps people navigate their GI Bill benefits gaps and caveats, which may have a significant impact on the ability of a veteran to continue their education.
Student veterans are supposed to have a full ride to college, and yet their drop-out rates are consistently above average, in some cases by a wide margin.
By and large, Rodgers said, the GI Bill is still a big advantage, but negotiating through it takes some work.
“All that stuff kind of compounds,” Rodgers said. The center can help bridge the gap to success. There are hundreds of programs to support veterans, and he can tell them where to look.
Drop in support groups and other meetings are held on Tuesday. Along with Rodgers, two work study students are paid by the VA. All three are veterans.
According to Knight, more people are coming in this term, now that news of the Veteran Success Center on campus is spreading.
Rodgers’ role focuses on the recruitment to and retention of veterans at Western. Students who are connected to campus are more successful academically, and are less likely to leave. Rodgers says he tries to put on at least one program every week or every other week.
One presenter helps with resumes; another helps with financial planning.
“Even though you’re 22, 23, and expected to know all this, you don’t,” Rodgers said.
In addition to helping individual veterans, if many people have the same problem or idea, Rodgers can help them get together and make it actionable.
“We can then bring a collective voice to ASWOU or the administration,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers said that it is important to get the Veteran Success Center and the people it supports involved in the community.
They helped with the Toys for Tots drive, and Rodgers said that he is trying to raise more awareness this term; for fall, he said, it was a learning curve figuring out what works to get veterans’ attention.
“We bring our collective knowledge here to help each other,” said Dolan Kasnick, the third member of the center’s team. The center is intended to help get ex-military students better connected to campus, and help them succeed in their time here.
Having the center also helps out the rest of campus, said Rodgers, because it frees up the registrar’s office from veterans’ questions, which helps streamline their process more, and they may be able to provide more assistance.
Veterans should come to the center, first, even before approaching the Registrar’s office.
Western’s Veteran Success Center is also home to an affiliated chapter of the national Student Veterans of America (SVA), which is dedicated to providing help to ex-military members, for graduation and beyond.
This allows the center to offer SVA-exclusive scholarships and additional opportunities to Western’s student veterans. Western’s SVA chapter has about 40 members.
“It’s nice to be able to come in here to talk to other guys who know what you’re talking about,” Knight said.
Kasnick said the goal is to collaborate to help today’s veteran students, and also to enrich the life of future returning military service members at Western.
“It’s that whole thing of not having to go it alone,” Rodgers said. “It’s nice to at least know where resources are.”
The Veteran Success Center is located in room 108 of the WUC.