Office to Help Vets Acclimate and Graduate
By Julia Gavin
Waking up early, working on deadlines and getting to know new people — there are similarities between military and college life, but at times student veterans have unique needs. For the first time, veterans studying at UMass Lowell will have a space on campus to go to for assistance and to call their own.
“Chancellor Meehan promised the student veterans last Veterans Day that they would have a place on campus to call their own, and now they do” says Janine Wert, director of Veterans Services, at the opening ceremony for the Student Veterans Services Office in McGauvran Hall.
Although University students, employees and faculty have worked to help student veterans before now, it is only with the opening of this office and the creation of Wert’s position that those services have been solidified and streamlined.
“If it wasn’t for the work of our students and employees and the support of the Chancellor, we wouldn’t have this space,” says Dean of Students Larry Siegel of the temporary office which will eventually move to University Crossing. “It will be a tremendous resource for our student veterans.”
UMass Lowell was recently named a military-friendly school by G.I. Jobs magazine, an honor Meehan is intent on keeping. He says that to retain the title, the University “must be vigilant in helping student veterans and adjust to the changing needs of brave men and women returning from service to our school.”
“We as a country are not doing enough for our veterans,” says Meehan, who served on the Armed Services Committee for 15 years while in Congress and has met military personnel across the world. “They have a right to a high quality education so that they can achieve their dreams and support their families. We owe them that and so much more.”
Before cutting the ribbon on the office, Meehan accepted thanks and a trophy from Christian Elwood, president of the Student Veterans Organization, as well as a plaque from G.I. Jobs. Meehan accepted the honor on behalf of the employees, alumni and students who have helped veterans at the University over the years.
A Secure Space
The office has study space, a kitchenette and private areas for conversation. On one wall hangs a map of the world with pins representing where the veterans served. On the opposite wall are clocks telling the time in Baghdad, Kabul, Tokyo, Lowell and Zulu. It’s a place for student veterans to meet and get help with college life. Wert says that the veterans on campus and in classes — more than 600 — can offer UMass Lowell unique insight.
“These are students with different needs, but they have experiences that other students don’t have,” says Wert. “They can give back to the University, whether it’s in world economics, leadership, history or elsewhere on campus. We should stop and listen to them.”
One veteran sharing his experiences is Bryan Bishop, a student in the Bachelor’s-Master’s Program studying Community Social Psychology. Bishop served in the U.S. Air Force band for 20 years. He began his studies at the University while on active duty and is now finishing under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“Being in the military is a lifestyle,” says Bishop. “People just getting out are often conditioned to the service life. In school, it’s different, and it’s good to know that there are people here to help.”
Bishop says having the office as a “hub” for veterans to address their issues instead of running between offices will make academic life easier for them.
“The staff understands the unique situations we’re in and can help with financial questions, class advice or just by being someone to talk to,” says Bishop. “It’s really a place of solace, safety and security for us.”