Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update First

Outreach programs assist student veterans



When Matthew and Dawn Bussey both left the military, there wasn’t a question that the newly married couple wanted to attend U-M.

At 30 and 25, the two were more worried about fitting in as non-traditional students than about their transition to civilian life.

“I was nervous about going back to school,” says Matt Bussey, who earned his bachelor’s degree before enlisting for six years with the U.S. Navy. Dawn Bussey earned an associate’s degree while she was enlisted with the U.S. Army for five years.

But any concerns they had immediately were erased with the help of Philip Larson, a transition specialist at the Office of New Student Programs (ONSP) who also heads the Transfer Connections program for incoming transfer students.

Larson, a U.S. Air Force veteran, provided the couple with a sense of comfort. “He is someone who’s been there, gone back to school and graduated,” Matthew Bussey says.

As student veterans return to an academic setting, the University has many support programs in place to ease the transition, such as the Student Veterans Assistance Program and ONSP, which serves as a hub for support services.

Some student veterans have asked the University to do more.

LSA junior Derek Blumke appeared before the Board of Regents at its Feb. 19 meeting to ask for administrative changes he said would encourage veterans to apply to the University. Blumke is a six-year U.S. Air Force and Afghanistan veteran and president of the national Student Veterans of America, which he founded at U-M.

Also appearing was LSA senior Carl Ireland, three-year U.S. Army veteran and president and legislative director of the SVA U-M chapter, who outlined a five-point plan aimed at increasing student veteran enrollment that Blumke and Ireland hope the legislature will adopt as requirements for all Michigan universities. Recommendations include allowing in-state tuition for all veterans, establishing a comprehensive audit system for transferring credit for certain types of training, extending application deadlines for all currently deployed military and waiving application fees for veterans.

University administration officials said they are seeking additional information about these suggestions.

According to the Office of the Registrar, as of Fall Term 2008, 62 active duty veterans who were using G.I. Bill benefits were enrolled at the University. This number greatly could increase if the University embraces SVA’s recommendations, Ireland said.
“U-M has the opportunity to ensure veterans come back as scholars and future leaders of our nation,” Blumke said.

Existing programs at the University help veterans do just that, ONSP leaders say.
Since student veterans face a major shift when switching from military life to college life, they call for greater access to accurate and timely information, streamlined processes for accessing educational benefits, more transitional support programs, academic credit for training, and supportive, veteran-friendly policies and procedures.

Initiatives designed to address this that were implemented in the last year include:
• Hiring Larson as a transition specialist at ONSP to coordinate services for student veterans;
• Forming the 11-member Council on Student Veterans under the leadership of Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs and senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs;
• Creating the Student Veterans Assistance Program, which provides resources, referrals and advocacy services;
• Introducing the Veteran's Connection, www.vets.umich.edu, a Web site that houses information on services and educational opportunities offered at U-M; and
• Starting the Student Veteran Campus Network to connect prospective, new and current student veterans to a campus network of advocates.

These services are vital to the success of a veteran’s transition to college life, says J. Ann Hower, director of ONSP, who Monts credits for her work in building the program.
The Busseys say multiple programs aided them in their transition. Online registration helped Matt Bussey sign up for master’s degree classes while he was working as an Arabic linguist in the United Arab Emirates. Once the two were on campus in Ann Arbor, Larson guided them to the office that would help with G.I. Bill paperwork for school funding.

“This is a great school,” Dawn Bussey says. “We love being here.”