Supporting the Needs of Veteran Students, Staff

New Veterans’ Lounge to Open Fall 2014

Furniture is arriving at the southern Maryland–based Waldorf Center for Higher Education, a space in which University of Maryland University College jointly offers degree programs with the College of Southern Maryland (CSM). The couches, workstation desks, cushioned chairs, and whiteboard will be part of a new veterans’ lounge slated to open this fall in the center, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

The lounge will be a comfortable place for both UMUC and CSM student veterans to congregate, work, and relax, said Lisa Romano, associate vice president of College and University Partnerships at the university.

“It’s a place where they can feel comfortable with one another and a private area where they can study,” she said. “Looking at best practices in serving veteran students across the country, institutions have created spaces specifically for veteran students.”

The plans for the room include some flexibility, said Romano, who is awaiting student feedback before deciding whether a television in the lounge would be a welcome addition or a distraction. “We are leaving some of the space with room to grow,” she said.

The lounge is one of many programs and services that the university offers to the veterans who are members of its community, said Kelly Wilmeth, associate vice president of Stateside Military Support. Another veterans’ lounge is scheduled to open this fall at the university’s Academic Center at Largo, she noted, and on the university-wide level, UMUC is launching a virtual Veterans Resource Center.

“We are trying to replicate the physical environment for our veteran students who can’t physically come here to Largo,” she said. The online platform, which will feature links to resources and content from guest bloggers, will not only serve veteran students’ academic needs but also help them “in their transition to civilian lives, in trying to secure employment, in health and wellness, and with family issues,” she said.

UMUC has served the U.S. armed forces since its founding in 1947, and it enrolls more than 55,000 student veterans, military personnel, and military spouses and family members. In 2013, the Military Times magazine named UMUC one of the schools that is “Best for Vets.”

UMUC President Javier Miyares often cites the university’s proud history of serving veterans and military personnel, and the university traces its roots to Maryland’s “commitment to educating what can be considered the nation’s first nontraditional students,” President Miyares wrote in a recent Baltimore Sun op-ed.

In a 2013 Huffington Post article, Miyares noted that education is so important to soldiers that even a rocket attack couldn’t keep one group of U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan away from a graduation ceremony for long. “Our soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors, and Guardsmen know how important educational benefits are,” he wrote at the time. “It is one of the reasons they enlist and risk their lives for their nation.”

In that same year, a chapter of Student Veterans of America formed at UMUC, and the university is a member of the VetSuccess on Campus program, which places experienced VA counselors in full-time roles at the university. A full-time veterans advisor at UMUC received an overwhelming response from students, and full-time VA counselors now represent “a huge resource,” said Wilmeth.

The university also participated in “Operation Hire: Maryland’s 100 Day Veteran Hiring Challenge,” from June 1 through September 9. According to a Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs website, the campaign challenged employers and “federal, state, and county agencies to increase recruitment efforts . . . and encourage an increase in veteran hiring.”

Participants included Johns Hopkins University; University of Maryland, College Park; Community College of Baltimore County; and Lockheed Martin Corporation. UMUC hired 21 people through the program, said Erin Duran, an account director at the university.

James Cronin, UMUC’s vice president of Military Partnerships, said the university community has an obligation to help veteran students find a “smooth landing as they transition from military to civilian life.”

“They are often nontraditional students who have full-time jobs, and often they’re deployed far away from home in dangerous situations,” he said. “They move often and may have families as well. At UMUC, serving the military and veteran student is central to who we are and what we do. It is critical that we provide them with a sound academic experience that will prepare them for a life after the military, while at the same time providing them the flexibility they need to succeed.”