Veterans just out of military service, many having served in hostile situations, have a different kind of need adapting to college life than the average freshman just out of high school — and that is a gap Miami University hopes to fill with its Student Veterans Center.
Leading the effort to establish that center was the Student Veterans Association, which has been working to meet some of those needs even before the center opened last March.
Emma Wott, president of the Student Veterans Association this year, described the opening of the center, located in Wells Hall in space formerly housing the campus Post Office, as a “soft opening in March and another soft opening in August.”
The official opening was on Veterans Day as the new Veterans Tribute was dedicated just outside their window.
The center offers student veterans a place to go to study, do school work or just relax. There are computers and a printer available for their needs. Wott said they located some furniture for the room and have been on the lookout for upgrades as well as other items they might find useful.
While they now have refreshments and lockers, she hopes to add cable television to the room.
“We are always moving forward. There’s still more to do. We’re getting there. I’m excited to see what happens,” she said. “It’s a good place for quiet space. There’s a private room for counseling sessions.”
Wott is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who is at Miami as a theater major. She said she prefers backstage roles, rather than acting but her role as president of the Student Veterans Association definitely puts her in front of people. On Veterans Day, she introduced a Miami dance group who performed at the city’s Uptown observance to the song “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and a short time later, was one of the speakers at the dedication of Miami’s Veterans Tribute where she spoke of military service and what it is like to go to school afterwards.
Advisor to the Student Veterans Association is Lincoln Walburn, also a Marine veteran, who works as associate director of the Armstrong Student Center.
He said the Veterans Center is a partnership between the president’s office, physical facilities and the student success center. He noted the Hamilton and Middletown regional campuses already had such veteran’s centers and it made sense to start one on the main campus.
Walburn said Miami’s career center sends people to the veteran’s center to provide career counseling and help with resumes.
He said the center fills a need and the location is ideal because it is convenient to the Veterans Tribute and also the Campus Avenue Building where veteran’s services are located.
“The Hamilton and Middletown spaces are really nice. We wanted to attract veterans and what we needed to do was find the space,” Walburn said. “The biggest thing about Miami is many colleges give a spare office. Here, we have a huge partnership across campus. It’s a great partnership.”
Wott said that need was met with a fortunate circumstance.
“The stars aligned. The Post Office moved. We were needing to make sure visibility was there so we did not have to go hunting through the weeds,” she said.
Now, they not only have a place but they have what Walburn called a “gigantic white sign” out front on Spring Street.
“Any veteran can see it and know we have a student center. Drive down Spring Street and you cannot help but see it,” he said. “Interior designers were willing to listen to veterans and cater to their needs. As veterans get more comfortable with the space, they will use it more.”
He said support for student veterans has been found all around the campus. One such example was the hockey team’s project of auctioning off game-worn jerseys with the coach choosing the Student Veterans Association as recipient of the funds.
“It’s great to see that support for the organization,” Walburn said.
Wott cited another meaningful example of the university’s willingness to support student veterans when changes were announced by the Veterans Administration for a new plan for education benefits. It was announced there would be a delay and she said Miami took immediate action to insure the students would not suffer from it.
She said students were notified there would be a back-up plan. Students could accept a short-term interest-free loan to cover expenses until the GI Bill money came through.
“They made sure veterans would not be affected or charged with tuition because they knew it would be coming from the VA,” Wott said. “No veterans were homeless, hungry or kicked out of classes.”
She said that double soft opening of the Student Veterans Center and efforts by the Student Veterans Association have been a big part of helping the veterans adjust to campus and civilian life. While much has been done over the past few years, more remains, but she is confident it will get done.
“It’s a lot of small steps, but steps in the right direction. We stay visible without getting lost in the shuffle,” Wott said. “We are finding people willing to support us.”