RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University’s inaugural Student Veterans Symposium, scheduled for March 5 on the Tri-Cities campus, will examine the unique needs of veterans and develop an action plan to help foster their success.

Student veterans contribute to WSU campuses in many unique ways. They display strong leadership skills, exert a solid work ethic, bring global perspectives to classrooms, and have extensive experience working in teams, to name a few noteworthy qualities.

“Because they bring so much to us, and especially because they developed these qualities in service to our country, we have an obligation to serve them to the best of our ability,” said Sandra Haynes, chancellor of WSU Tri-Cities.

Haynes will be joined at the all-day systemwide event by WSU President Kirk Schulz and over 50 administrators, faculty, staff and students. It will be held in the Student Union Building, room 120, beginning at 8 a.m. The symposium will be accessible via zoom and livestream.

The idea for the symposium came after Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for student affairs, met with some student veterans last spring on the Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses.

“Through our conversations it became apparent that we are underserving our veteran and military affiliated students,” Nolan said. “Our goal for the symposium is to tell their stories and share best practices that will serve as inspiration for helping us determine where we need to go from here.”

Summit breakdown

The symposium will feature two speakers, beginning in the morning with Jared Lyon, the national president and CEO of Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA has more than 1,500 chapters on campuses in all 50 states and four countries.

The lunch keynote will be delivered by Derek Abbey, CEO of Project Recover and former veterans services director at San Diego State University. Project Recover utilizes cutting edge science and technology to find and repatriate Americans missing in action since World War II.

The symposium will also include a working session where participants will have an opportunity to discuss how WSU can better serve student veterans and military affiliated students, what kinds of new programs would be meaningful for them, and what barriers to progress are present. It is the first step in creating an action plan. The symposium will conclude with a reception.

On the rise

There are 856 veterans enrolled and receiving Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits across the WSU system this semester. They are represented on every campus.

A significant number of them, whether they are retired from the military, are reservists, or on active-duty, are enrolled in WSU Global Campus. Jeff Willadsen, a Navy reservist and Global Campus senior writer, said veterans account for nine-percent of his campus’ enrollment, a number on the upswing.

Many veterans are attracted to Global Campus because of the flexibility its online degree programs offer. Some veterans move work locations frequently, get called to active duty, or simply don’t want to move for family reasons. They like that wherever they have internet access, they can work on their WSU degree.

“I plan to share at the symposium the ways Global Campus has recently increased its services for veterans, including designing a webpage that speaks to veteran interests, offering webinars for prospective and current veteran students, and giving students the opportunity to take part in a virtual veterans career fair,” Willadsen said.

Hearing from our students

WSU student veterans serving on the symposium steering committee believe the university is a great place for veterans, but there are things that could make their experiences even better. The symposium will provide an opportunity for them to share their thoughts and ideas.

Chris Mann, chair of WSU Pullman’s Student Veterans Committee, spent eight years in the Marines doing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. When he decided to settle down and attend WSU Pullman, his transition went smoothly, except for an unexpected 12-week delay in receiving his VA benefits to cover his school expenses. The delay forced him to take out a loan which was eventually paid back when his benefits arrived. The stress of the situation took a toll on him and he knows of other students who left WSU because of similar delays.

“While these delays are happening across the country, the impact is definitely felt here, too,” Mann said. “So many of us end up worrying about how we’re going to pay our rent or groceries instead of focusing on our school work.”

Mann said part of the problem rests with the VA and the burdensome amount of paperwork that is required. The problem can be helped, however, if WSU hired more certifying officials that document their enrollment status.

Other improvements Mann wants to raise at the symposium include renovations to the Veterans Center in Holland Library to increase privacy, security and comfort; better promotion of the private psychology clinic on campus for student veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, or depression; and university orientation sessions and academic probation classes that are tailored to meet the needs of veterans.

WSU Tri-Cities student Robin Kovis, a third generation Marine who served as a scout sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he wants to discuss how WSU campuses can hire more peer mentors to help veterans navigate their unique challenges and become more integrated into the campus community.

Kovis is already a change agent on his campus by serving as a student senator. Now he is playing a key role in creating the symposium, which has the potential to improve services for veterans on every campus.

“We designed this to be a high visibility event that involves key players who can facilitate change,” the future law student said. “I’m ready to do my part by voicing my concerns and helping create some solutions.”

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