Most students understand certain acronyms of the college admission process: ACT, SAT, FAFSA. Students who come from military service, however, speak an additional language that isn’t so universal: DD214, REAP, BAH.
According to Beth Gerasimiak, director of educational and lifelong learning services in UT’s College of Adult and Lifelong Learning, the code is one of a few differences faced by students with military backgrounds.
“Many of these students come after two or four years of service,” Gerasimiak said. “They’re older, so they don’t fit in the population of 18-year-olds. The college atmosphere is also completely different from structured military life.”
Joel Whitcomb, a Toledo native and four-year U.S. Navy veteran, began classes 12 days after his discharge. With the assistance of representatives from the Military Service Center, he secured his military benefits and sailed through the admission process.
“I started by sending an email to ask how I’d get processed using my GI Bill,” Whitcomb said. “When I was home on leave, I took care of everything else. It was a one-stop process.”
The adjustment to college life, however, was a bit trickier. “I was a freshman at 23, rather than 18,” Whitcomb, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002, said. “All of the people I’d graduated from high school with had graduated from college. I felt like I had to speed up the process.”
Cheryl Karnikowski, VA certifying official, counsels two groups of students attached to the military: those currently serving and veterans, and spouses and dependents of those with military service.
“We have about 430 men and women who receive education benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Karnikowski said.
The draw of the Military Service Center, which has existed since 2002, is a central office where advisors concisely understand the process of securing military benefits, as well as a place where veterans can share experiences.
“We’re the liaison between UT and the VA,” Karnikowski explained. “We’re a one-stop resource to help students complete their forms, and we focus on issues that are most common for students with military benefits.”
Since students using military benefits must complete certain paperwork each semester, Gerasimiak believes consistency is an asset.
“Having one or two point people establishes a trust that helps with adjustment to the college experience,” she said. “It can be overwhelming. I’ve had some students coming right off deployments and others trying to schedule classes between deployments.”
Gerasimiak and Karnikowski also assist with securing coursework and translating military experience into college credits. Future plans include “brown bag” seminars focused on issues directly relating to students with military backgrounds.
UT’s exemplary service has earned designation as a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs magazine. In addition to services already highlighted, UT participates in the following: Ohio GI Promise program, which provides in-state residency for veterans living in Ohio at the start of educational terms; MyCAA program for spouses of active duty service members; Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Consortium and Post 9-11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon program, which allows additional benefits for veterans whose education costs have exceeded VA limits.
Whitcomb, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and other veterans initiated the UT chapter of Student Veterans of America in 2007 and now host monthly meetings. The group participated in the Nov. 11, 2009 dedication of UT’s Veterans’ Plaza, a memorial on Main Campus honoring those who have served.
“I looked into Big 10 and other schools,” Whitcomb said. “After discussing things with people in the Military Service Center, I knew I’d have a better experience at UT.”