Military veterans as students provide a valuable dimension and depth to a college campus. They have unique perspectives on learning and real-life situations that can enrich the learning environment for all students.
In turn, a successful college experience can give veterans a positive transition from active military service back into the citizen workforce.
As for Defiance College student and veteran John Steele of Napoleon, he quickly learned that his skills and technical training weren’t going to be enough to land a fulfilling, high-paying job. “I knew I needed to complete my bachelor’s degree when I started searching for a job after my retirement from the Air Force,” says the business major. “I selected Defiance College based on its reputation, close proximity to home, and participation in the Yellow Ribbon program and Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
The Yellow Ribbon program is available to veterans of the post-9/11 era through participating colleges. It guarantees free tuition to qualifying veterans, with private institutions and the Yellow Ribbon Program splitting costs that may exceed the established cap. While most veterans have been able to access benefits through the traditional GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon bridges the difference in pricing and gives veterans the opportunity to choose an institution that best suits their area of interest.
Defiance’s voluntary participation in the Yellow Ribbon program follows a long tradition of the institution’s welcoming and support of military veterans as students of higher education.
According to registrar Mariah Orzolek, Defiance’s enrollment of veterans has increased significantly since the inception of Yellow Ribbon in 2009. Her office has a VA-trained school certifying official, Carrie Relyea, to ensure that veterans receive all benefits to which they are entitled.
Veterans’ academic interests cross all departments, from business to social work to digital forensics, says Cathy Mikula, assistant director, Center for Adult and Graduate Programs. “Faculty love having them in class for the maturity they bring, the example they set for other students, and the experiences and perspective that they can share. The respect that they show to other students, to faculty, and to staff is noticeable.”
Marine Corps veteran Matt Monroe of Bryan is studying criminal justice at Defiance. He decided to enroll full-time after being laid off from his job. “Faculty and staff go out of their way to help you and make sure you are living up to your potential,” he says. “Professors seem to know that our experiences have given us a greater insight into the world and the way things work. It is nice to know that your opinion is respected.”
Dr. Tim Rickabaugh, associate professor of sport science, has experience both as veteran-turned-student and college professor. He served in the Army Reserves while in graduate school and recalls that it was often a challenge to align his summer Reserve training with his graduate coursework.
As a faculty member, he has an even greater appreciation for veterans in the classroom. “They most often are very focused and determined students who serve as great role models for all of our students,” he says.
Steele, who works full-time, advises veterans looking at college to prepare themselves for the commitment that will take time away from family, friends and activities. “Your family needs to understand that you are going to miss a football game or kids’ choir once in a while. You might be spending Friday night in class or writing a big paper.”
Defiance College works to make sure that veterans receive the support needed to transition to college life. “They are a great bunch of people. It is a privilege and a pleasure to serve them,” says Mikula.