You’re a veteran. You’ve served your country, your tours are over…now what? Possibly one of the most challenging transitions of your life.
“Civilian life is a big transition,” says Morgan Langlois, the new veterans resource advisor for CCV’s northern centers. “College life is even more on top of that, it’s a really huge transition.”
Langlois is one player in the effort CCV is making to provide veterans seeking higher education in Vermont with the support they need to make those transitions. Kyle Aines is another.
“I was very fortunate,” says Aines, the new veterans resource advisor for the southern Vermont centers and online. “I had a very large support network. I had family, friends, my wife, but there are quite a few veterans that either don’t have as vast a support network or have no support at all.”
Aines’ position is funded by a new gift from David Stiller through his Vermont Community Foundation (VCF) fund. Starting in 2011, CCV was able to ramp up veteran-specific services, which includes Langlois’ position, with grants from the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation and Bari and Peter Dreissigacker, and VCF funds. At that time, many veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan faced high rates of unemployment; CCV anticipated that using their educational benefits and enhancing their service with a degree was the next logical step.
But logical doesn’t equal easy. Veterans face a complicated benefits process, as well as unique challenges as college students.
“You mature a lot in the service,” says Aines, who attended Castleton State College after finishing two tours in Iraq as a combat medic. “I remember going back to classes and being really annoyed with some of the other students’ comments and thinking ‘I was that person in high school.’”
It’s not just maturity that sets veterans apart from their college peers, the rigors and discipline of military life are often at odds with the liberties of a college classroom. Respect for authority, the emphasis on the hierarchy of command, and quick and decisive decision making, all essential for a military to run properly, are met in the college environment with consequence-free questioning of authority, sometimes no clear leadership, and an emphasis on group brainstorming and more lengthy consensus-building exercises.
“Fitting in is key,” said a veteran and CCV student at a recent panel discussion in Montpelier. “That’s tough. Is it ok to speak our minds? Or be open, ‘do I say it, do I not say it?’ How do I behave?”
In many ways veteran students can be far more advanced than their peers, with superior time management skills, dedication to their studies and a more developed sense of self. But when facing the difficulties associated with moving from military life to college life, sometimes vets see asking for help as weakness.
“It is going to be hard to get the veterans through the door,” says Langlois, who joined the Navy in 2001 and served three tours of duty as a boatswain’s mate. “Asking for help, or wanting to come to us is going to be hard for them to do. It’s important to us that they understand that they are not weak or not as good as other students. We just have a different way of thinking, of developing.”
At about 400 per semester, CCV enrolls more undergraduate military-connected students than any other college in Vermont. The importance of people like Langlois and Aines and the roles they play in the success of those students at CCV is inarguable. As is their value as resources for the staff, faculty and other students.
“We are here not just for the students, we are here for faculty and administrators as well; to help them understand more about the specific needs for vets,” asys Aines.
On March 21, he and Langlois were at the Montpelier academic center for Boots to Books, a training seminar for staff designed to convey how best to support the veteran and military connected students attending CCV. The daylong training featured overviews of veteran educational benefits, insights into the transition from military to college life, and a panel of CCV students discussing their experiences as veterans at the College.
“We don’t necessarily want the traditional college experience,” said Collette Paro, a veteran who attended CCV Rutland and is now enrolled in Johnson State College’sv external degree program student. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that all of the veterans are not high school students coming in. At CCV what’s really, really helpful is the class schedules are conducive to our lives. I have a family, a lot of us have jobs, we have other schedules, we don’t have time for the traditional type of schedule.”
In addition to Boots to Books, faculty and staff are participating in Kognito’s Veterans on Campus training which is also funded by the recent gift from Stiller. CCV’s use of this state-of-the-art online, interactive program is funded by the recent gift from Stiller and provides virtual experience and role-playing for those supporting reintegrating veterans.
Reintegration is a unique, nuanced transition, which is impossible to sum up in a few paragraphs. The support for veterans in college goes far beyond academic advising; there are psychological, emotional and cultural shifts that civilians aren’t able to truly grasp. But the College, with the generous support of the VCF donors, is doing its best to ensure the success of those who have served the nation and make the achievement of their educational and career goals a reality.
“I think CCV is a very veteran friendly institution,” Aines says. “They understand that right now there’s a need for the services that they are providing, and that it’s being encompassed as a whole. People from admissions, finance, everybody’s together on what they can do and how we can work together to improve on vet services. It’s that culture that makes CCV special for vets.”