UL Named 2015 Military Friendly® School
● By Aimee Cormier
By Shanna Perkins | Photos Are Courtesy Of UL Lafayette
2015 Military Friendly® School
Acadiana has an unrivaled sense of community that continually grows stronger with the help of local associations that ensure the comfort and advancement of those who call Acadiana home. The University Veteran Services at UL-Lafayette is one such organization. Through their hard work, UL has been designated as a 2015 Military Friendly® School.
“The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is very excited to be named a Military Friendly campus this year,” says Vice President of Enrollment Management DeWayne Bowie, Ph.D.
“Earning and maintaining this designation is an important goal of the University. Military members and their families make huge sacrifices in their commitment to protect and serve our country. We are committed to providing them the necessary support and resources they need to earn a college degree at UL.”
The military friendly title is only awarded to the top 15 percent of U.S. institutions. The website militaryfriendly.com states, “These schools have demonstrated a commitment to supporting student veterans on campus and in their careers.” They consider factors such as tuition assistance, online and evening classes for flexibility, academic credit acceptance, military training and spousal and dependent benefits.
“I’m really proud that we’re getting this recognition,” reflects Sammi Zapata Conner, director of the office of veteran services. “It’s the first year that we’ve received it; it’s great for the students. If they don’t receive benefits, some of them don’t know my office exists. So it’s great to let people on campus and people in the community know that we have support for veterans.”
From Combat to College
The office of veteran services is often military students’ first point of contact on campus. According to Conner, when it comes to assisting these students, the office will “do anything we’re asked.” The staff members meticulously examine each student’s needs so that his or her experience on campus will be a successful one.
“We’ve connected students with counseling and with testing centers if they need help or additional time taking exams,” adds Conner. “We have a lot of general services for students that may not be well known. We tell our current students any question, whether it’s VA related or not, come and see us.”
Another unique on-campus program is Veterans Upward Bound. Student veterans’ time in the service typically falls between high school graduation and college enrollment. So unlike traditional students, they may not have taken the ACT and may need to freshen up on basic skills and study habits. The VUB offers pre-college services; it assists in remedial course enrollment and ACT preparation. Its aim is to help students excel through academic and economic support and motivation.
All Together Now
Educational and financial issues aren’t the only ones faced by veterans entering into the collegiate lifestyle; they face social challenges as well. President of student veteran organization and former Marine Erasto Padron recalls his experience transitioning from military life to college life.
“I was active duty for 12 years; it’s difficult going from full-time active-duty Marine to full-time student,” Padron admits. “That was a bit of a shock. It’s difficult adjusting to the new environment. You’re now a part of this big institution and you don’t have as much camaraderie as you did when you served. It can seem like you’re on your own.”
The office of veteran services hosts monthly “meet and greets” to introduce military students to one another. In addition to building the camaraderie that so many of these students are missing, these socials also let them know that they aren’t alone in their experience.
“We’re just trying to bring in the student veteran population and their dependents, to at least let them know that we’re here,” continues Padron. “We want them to know that they have someone that they can relate to about some of the issues that your normal, traditional college student doesn’t know about. Because like I say, we’re a unique population on this campus and sometimes we get here and we think there’s no one like us around campus. That’s why we hold these “meet and greets” — so that they know we’re here and we can share some similarities.”
Support For Veterans,
It’s not uncommon for universities to house their veterans’ affairs office in their financial aid or registrar office. This was the case at UL prior to the post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. Having a separate office now allows the university to focus solely on this individualized portion of the student body. The expertise and support found there is not limited to veterans. It extends to their dependents who are also invited to attend events and become involved with these organizations.
“We deal with dependents of veterans that receive their parent’s GI bill,” Conner explains. “Or if they’re a dependent or spouse of a veteran who is disabled or deceased, we deal with them as well. We get a lot of different types of students. We have almost 500 students who receive some type of VA benefit.”
The Military Friendly School designation and the work being done by UL’s veteran services do not benefit only the school’s military population and the university; they benefit the entire community by sending educated, well-adjusted individuals into the local workforce. Conner’s office keeps in close contact with Lafayette’s Parish Branch of Veterans Affairs. The two offices work together to employ veterans after graduation.
“A lot of times the VA Parish office downtown will send me requests like, ‘Oh, we’re looking for someone with a business degree.’ So I can pull all the VA students who majored in business and send them an email,” Conner explains. “It’s great because they’re sending me an opportunity here in the Acadiana area. So the VA students can continue their career right here.”
UL will host several different events the week of Veterans Day, including a complimentary lunch (for military veterans and active duty students) and a number of speakers on campus from various veterans’ organizations. On Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. UL will join universities across the nation in one minute of silence to honor those who served but didn’t return home. After the moment of silence, a roll call will honor fallen soldiers. Join them in the moment of silence; because Acadiana isn’t just the home of a Military Friendly School, it is home for military personnel and veterans.