UNI offers a variety of services for student veterans

Veterans Day Ribbon tying

UNI students tied yellow ribbons around trees on campus in recognition of Veterans Day.

More than 250 University of Northern Iowa students are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. They are nontraditional students who, like many of their classmates, often have to juggle work and family obligations along with their academics.

For some, it's even more complicated because they are members of the National Guard or Reserves and have ongoing military commitments. And although they may not be much older than traditional students, they feel different because of their experiences.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines return from Iraq and Afghanistan and tap into GI Bill benefits, the number claiming education aid for themselves or their dependents grew by 57 percent, from 523,344 in 2007 to 819,281 in 2010. Universities, like UNI, are offering services available to help with registration, financial aid, mental health counseling, student life and academic advising.

Services at UNI for Veterans

Veterans Student Services Committee (VSSC)

The Veterans Student Services Committee was appointed in fall 2009 to conduct an initial assessment of veteran students' needs and to provide coordination of existing services. The committee is comprised of UNI faculty and staff, members of the Cedar Valley community and UNI students.

The VSSC conducted an online veteran survey in 2010 and results showed that UNI student veterans were having difficulties in areas that included navigating the intricacies of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, balancing Guard and Reserve duty to assignments in class and relating to other students in general.

"We want UNI to be a school where student veterans are going to be successful," said Jennifer Suchan, veterans student services coordinator.

“I like the challenges college offers and the atmosphere, but honestly it has been an adjustment roller coaster for me," said Courtney Greif, UNI student and Army National Guard member.

The survey results, in addition to other student veteran related topics, are now being acted upon. So far, VSSC has discussed housing options for student veterans, made filing for financial aid and the Post-9/11 GI Bill available online, and the committee is also getting ready to administer a 2011 veteran survey.

The VSSC is headed in the right direction, UNI was selected by G.I. Jobs Magazine as a Military Friendly campus for 2011, an honor placing the university in the top 15 percent of schools doing the most to embrace America's veterans as students.

"We want UNI to be a school where student veterans are going to be successful," said Jennifer Suchan, veterans student services coordinator. "We also want them to understand that their service will not be forgotten."

For more information on the VSSC, visit http://www.uni.edu/studentaffairs/committees/veteran-student-services.

UNI Student Veterans Association (SVA)

The UNI Student Veterans Association was formed by a group of students who wanted to make UNI a more pro-veteran campus with more services and programs for veterans. It is also one reason the Veterans Student Services Committee came into being.

“The SVA is a place where you can relate to other military people,” said David Hind, UNI student and SVA member. “One thing we try to emphasize is that one generation of veterans will never forget another generation.”

Suggestions for services and programs include a sponsorship program for incoming veterans, a "Veterans 101" for faculty and staff, a veterans-only orientation and a space on campus dedicated to veterans for meetings and other functions.

So far this semester, the SVA has had a couple meetings with attendance far exceeding their expectations. They meet every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 1 p.m., in Maucker Union, and encourage student veterans and supporters to join them. 

U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)

ROTC Panther Battalion

UNI senior Bryce Meier is a member of the ROTC Panther Battalion. Some of the training they do includes real world drills.

While veterans are one end of a timeline, the U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps is at the other.

UNI Army ROTC Panther Battalion, which is part of the Military Science Department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, is an elective curriculum students can take along with their required college classes. It gives students the tools, training and experience that will help them succeed in any competitive environment.

There are a couple ways to approach ROTC. Because the program is an elective, students can participate their freshman and sophomore years without any obligation to join the Army. Or, students can go the route UNI senior Bryce Meier pursued.

After graduating from high school in 2008, Meier enlisted in the Army National Guard. He completed basic training before enrolling at UNI to major in business administration.

“I joined ROTC at UNI in January 2010 in addition to being enlisted in the Army National Guard because I felt having some of those real world experiences would help develop and apply the leadership skills I was being taught even more,” said Meier.

Since Meier chose to continue with ROTC throughout his senior year, he must complete a period of service with the Army upon graduation.

The more common route students can take is through the Army ROTC Scholarship. This allows students right out of high school to enroll at UNI, take ROTC courses then continue serving some time in the Army.

Regardless of the path they choose, ROTC students enjoy the lessons they learn and experiences they get to have, especially at UNI.

For more information about UNI ROTC Panther Battalion, visit http://www.uni.edu/rotc/.