U.S. Army veteran James Stevens recalls filling out several college applications, including one for West Virginia University, while deployed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2007-08. For the most part, it was a perfunctory exercise.
“It was WVU all the way,” Stevens said.
Stevens, a native of Fort Ashby and staff sergeant with the West Virginia Army National Guard, was one of several WVU students who spoke at Veterans’ Summit II, “Building a Veteran-Friendly Community,” a recent campus conference to help better integrate veterans into WVU and the local community. Along with presenters from WVU, the event also featured speakers from the community and retired Lt. Col. Lisa Rosser, consultant with The Value of a Veteran.
“We’ve been recognized as having one of the most veteran-friendly campuses in the U.S.,” said Patricia Gyurke, WVU director of employment services. “And this event not only reinforces our commitment to veterans but it serves as a place where we can share best practices regarding hiring veteran employees and recruiting and retaining veteran students.
“This is a community effort not just a University effort,” she added. “We’ve formed amazing partnerships with the Morgantown community which has greatly enhanced these initiatives.”
Stevens recalled the score of his first WVU football game – a 31-9 win over Syracuse to complete the first undefeated regular season in school history in 1988 – and cited his mother, who attended WVU, and sister, an alumna of the College of Human Resources and Education, as inspirations for attending WVU. He spent 15 years on active duty in the U.S. Army.
“I am a veteran. I am a Mountaineer. I’m damn proud of both,” he said. “This University has been a big source of pride to me.”
Stevens’ pride grew when he arrived on the WVU campus to pursue a degree in foreign languages and discovered a host of programs and support systems to help veterans make the transition to being a student.
In Terry Miller, the University has a full-time Veterans Advocate. WVU also offers special course sections for veterans, faculty contacts, a veterans’ payment plan and participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a program designed to help students with tuition and fees associated with education programs that may exceed the Post 9/11 GI Bill tuition benefit. Stevens was particularly impressed when he learned WVU had sign language interpreters who were able to help a friend who was a disabled vet and WVU student.
But even though WVU has proven to be a veteran-friendly campus, spreading the word and raising awareness about veteran-specific issues, such as making a transition from a dangerous deployment to a college campus, takes a sustained effort.
Candice Matelski, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is taking matters into her own hands. While pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology, Matelski also works part-time in Miller’s office. Her first order of business: revamping the WVU Veterans’ website to make it more user-friendly.
A single mother of two, Matelski hopes to make WVU not only accommodating for veterans but also accommodating for veterans with families. At the summit, she spoke about creating special housing for veterans with families and expanding child care.
“The University has been supportive and now it must change with the changing times,” she said. “Fifty percent of veterans are married with families and creating support for those families and children will be integral in attracting veterans.”
Ben Maatman went from graduate student to being a part of WVU’s veteran support system. A U.S. Navy vet, Maatman recently joined WVU as an employment specialist for the WVU Division of Human Resources after finishing his master’s degree at WVU in industrial relations.
“WVU is 100 percent committed to veterans from Trisha Gyurke to everyone at Human Resources to President (James P.) Clements,” Maatman said. “This summit is another opportunity to build on what we’re doing.”
Maatman is also a member of VetConnection, a community networking organization affiliated with the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce. VetConnection was inspired from a visit to Morgantown by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this past April. Mullen chose Morgantown and WVU as a site for one of his select visits on a “Conversation with the Country” tour to promote veteran integration. The visit came on the heels of another accolade: Last year, G.I. Jobs magazine named WVU a 2010 Military Friendly School.
Events like Veterans’ Summit II, which ended with small-group brainstorming sessions, continue to advance WVU’s mission to attract and support veteran students and employees. According to Rosser, who served for 20 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and has a master’s degree in human resource management, WVU is heading in the right direction.
“You’re a lot farther ahead than many, many universities out there,” she told the Summit audience. “All the things you’re already doing, they’re just now figuring out that they may want to do that.”
By Dan Shrensky
University Relations – News
CONTACT: University Relations – News
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