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VOL. 129 | NO. 31 | Friday, February 14, 2014

Welcoming Home

U of M works to make campus more ‘veteran-friendly’

By Bill Dries

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Brad Martin recently came across some old photos of University of Memphis students that struck him as a different kind of collegian.

U.S. Army veteran Torrian “Redd” Frazier, using a computer in the University of Memphis’ Veterans Resource Center, is one of an estimated 600 veterans attending the school.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

To him, they seemed more focused than college students who come to college directly from high school.

The U of M interim president has seen lots of photos from the 100-plus year history of the city’s largest higher learning institution, but these particular snapshots depicted students who were older than most of their classmates.

They were veterans of the two World Wars.

“You can bet they were very serious students after they came back from those conflicts,” Martin said of the students who were on campus at a time when college was an opportunity in a rigid timeframe that followed high school.

The campus of 22,000 students today includes hundreds of veterans, including those back from Iraq and Afghanistan, with more to come from Afghanistan once U.S. involvement in that war ends in about a year.

University Provost David Rudd, himself a veteran and cofounder and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, spoke last month as the university opened its Veterans Resource Center in the Panhellenic Building, one of the oldest buildings on the campus.

He said the “ballpark” estimate is that 600 U of M students are veterans.

“They tend to have a more non-traditional context in which we have a higher percentage of veterans that have spouses and also have children,” Rudd said. “They have different demands in their lives on a day-to-day basis. Veterans have experiences in the military that potentially translate to credit hours in the curriculum toward a degree. … It’s a little different than most students.”

The center is a place for these unique students to talk about common experiences and get more information on veterans benefits. The university will also help with counselors to let veterans know more about credit hours they may have earned elsewhere and similar parts of the road through college.

Veterans “have different demands in their lives on a day-to-day basis. ... It’s a little different than most students.”

–David Rudd
University of Memphis provost

“Every veteran appreciates a good map,” said Darrion Garrett, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran in his second semester at the university. Garrett heads a veterans task force that is part of the Student Government Association.

In the past, Rudd said the school hasn’t been as aggressive as it will be soon in advertising that the university is “veteran friendly.”

While the World War II-era “G.I. Bill” benefits had a profound impact on college campuses across the country in the late 1940s, Rudd said the enhanced G.I. Bill could have a broader impact.

“There are many more veterans that are affected that are transitioning to higher education. These benefits are transferable to family members,” he said. “It may be a spouse or it may be children that use the benefits.”

And Martin said with online classes accessible from military outposts around the world, many of the veterans have already started their education beyond high school.

“One fundamental thing that is different than in the past, perhaps, is that many of our veterans have already had higher education experiences online even while they have served in Afghanistan and Iraq or even in other places,” Martin said. “We want to be known as a place that welcomes and loves the idea of veterans being part of our program and among our graduates.”

Rudd said the resource center will offer help in reviewing what veterans have already earned through online coursework, as well as courses they took on other campuses elsewhere in the country or in the world.

“A lot of our veteran students come in with partial credit … from different institutions depending on how long they served,” Rudd said. “One thing is a constant in military service. You tend to move around quite a bit. We need to have the support structure in place to evaluate that credit and help them transfer that credit and get adequate credit for what they have done.”

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