Creating a Sense of Belonging in the Office of Veterans Success
Less than seven percent of the United States adult population currently serves in the U.S. military. When we think of special populations in higher education we may not always consider students who are military connected as a member of a focused group. The USF Office of Veteran Success takes great care in concentrating on the unique needs of military-connected students at the University of South Florida (USF).
As veterans leave the military and attend college it is a major culture shift. They no longer belong in the military, they don’t really fit into civilian life, the university is new with a totally different culture, and they are older than traditional students. This awkward transition has many layers. They are also coming from a very structured environment to an environment that works differently than they are used to.
In the Fall of 2021, OVS received a $437,469 grant from the U.S. Department of Education Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success grant. This grant has helped OVS put resources, such as new staff members, in place to continue building an environment that creates a sense of belonging for military-connected students.
Wayne Taylor, Ed.D., director of OVS said, “Anyone who walks into our door will hear, ‘Welcome home! How can we help you today?’ The office is here to provide that sense of belonging for these students so they can grow personally, socially, and physically as part of their academic journey. We are creating a military inclusive environment.” The office provides a space for students to study and connect with other military-connected students.
Many veterans and family members have spent months to decades living in different cities, states, and countries. They may not have developed a sense of connection to a geographical area or group of friends or co-workers. Due to this unusual lifestyle, the military-connected student may feel different from others since their life experience is so different.
Military-connected students can sometimes feel apprehensive to share their military identity. Many have received a variety of negative responses when they identify as military-related.
It is imperative for OVS staff to build trust, understand, and offer a safe place for students. With the support of staff, the student evaluates their own transition and is able to integrate into the university so they don’t feel like they are starting all over again. OVS staff connects students with university resources such as tutoring, writing assistance, career planning, and wellness that the student needs to thrive and be successful. They assist students with barriers they may encounter.
The Veteran Student Success grant has also enabled OVS to purchase a new web-based platform to connect to the Veterans Administration (VA) system. OVS has been manually making entries and verifying entries with the VA on their current platform. The new web-based platform will update student information from USF platforms to the VA so students will have real-time updates to view to track VA requirements easier.
The new website platform should also make the military to college transition easier for military-connected students.
OVS will be hosting events for Veterans Week, November 6-12th, and throughout the month of November. Join them in celebrating and honoring our veterans. During the month of November, OVS is collecting unwrapped toys for children of deployed and non-deployed military personnel. Drop toys off at OVS USF Tampa campus, ALN 130.