When Tim Ruple enrolled at Siena Heights University, he knew there was something missing.
The U.S. Army and Iraq War veteran had a difficult time relating to the college environment, and wanted to do something about it.
“I thought (Siena Heights) needed a network for vets to find out information,” said the Adrian native. “We needed a place where we could meet, get together and talk about things. We needed an understanding of what’s out there and how we can help each other.”
He wasn’t alone. Several other veteran students had also approached the university with a similar request. With the help of SHU Vice President of Enrollment Management Pat Palmer – a decorated Vietnam War veteran who serves as the group’s advisor – the Siena Heights Student Veterans group was formed last fall. The group usually meets each week on the Adrian campus.
The group’s purpose is to ensure all veterans receive the benefits entitled to them and also help them succeed at Siena Heights. It also hopes to create a network of veteran students and successful alumni in order to provide professional and leadership development that will further career paths.
“I didn’t think many veterans went (to Siena Heights),” said SHSV member Tama Lunsford, who served two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Army before enrolling at SHU. “I know how lost I felt. I didn’t know there was a (student) orientation… I had to do everything myself, and it sucked.”
Lunsford, a psychology major, said the group has made the college experience much more enjoyable.
“When you are in classes with people who are 18, 19 years old and have a question, you really don’t want to ask somebody,” she said. “Now that I have these guys, we can actually get together.”
“It’s a good group to be around,” said Adrian’s Dave Lowe, who served three tours in Iraq as a Marine machine gunner and squad leader. “It’s definitely a foothold, just because these are people who I know and I trust because they have gone through the same types of training and boot camps and the horror stories.”
Lowe, who is majoring in criminal justice, wants to use his military experience to enter the federal law enforcement field. He said the group has already helped him better adapt to the classroom.
“(Group members) are getting into different majors and studying different studies,” he said. “And any time I’m in any one of these courses, I rely on these people to tell me what it’s like in the psychology field or a class I haven’t taken yet. It’s good to get that feedback. It’s really positive.”
The group not only wants to help the students currently enrolled in classes to adjust to college life, but those prospective veteran students as well. On Veterans Day 2010, Siena Heights hosted the inaugural Operation: SERVE Veterans Day Opportunity Expo, and members of the SHSV were on hand to help answer questions and offer advice to veterans who are trying to transition back to civilian life.
“Our primary focus is how we can make a veteran’s life on campus better,” Ruple said. “It’s starting a foundation for veterans here at Siena and hopefully help the school build a population of veterans.”
For the second consecutive year Siena Heights was named a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs magazine. Palmer said he hopes to eventually open a veterans center on the Adrian campus.
“Now that we have this vet group, I’m so much happier,” Ruple said. “I have more ambition to do things.”