Wert Named Director of Veterans Services
They don’t wear uniforms. And they rarely announce their status. But more than 300 students in campus classrooms, and an equal number online, are veterans of United States military service.
“Veterans have awesome skills to navigate academic life and contribute to the classroom,” says Janine Wert, director of Veterans Services at UMass Lowell – a new, full-time staff position. “Veterans have global experience; they have gained resilience in moving from place to place and interacting with people of different cultures. Often, they have met world leaders and understand different forms of government.” At the same time, veterans have some unique challenges adjusting to academic life. Wert calls these “stacked stresses.”
As students, they have to deal with the normal academic bureaucracy and getting their G.I. benefits through the Veterans’ Administration process. They have job demands and family responsibilities. And, they may have physical disabilities or be suffering the aftereffects of combat stress or traumatic brain injury. “In higher education, we help freshmen adjust in their move from home to college life,” says Wert.
“If you were in combat in Afghanistan six days before you arrive on campus, this is not like moving from Montana to Massachusetts,” she says, in explaining the need for specialized services for veterans. “You’re coming from a life-or-death situation, where you had responsibility for other lives, controlled millions of dollars worth of equipment and had explicit tasks. It’s takes a while to integrate.”
UMass Lowell has stepped up its efforts to welcome and support veterans as students. Early registration and orientation helps veterans get the benefits process started in time for the beginning of classes. A newly constructed office and drop-in center provide veterans with a place to meet and socialize, as well as study space, help with G.I. benefits and access to information and counseling.
In recognition of these initiatives, UMass Lowell has been designated a military-friendly school by G.I. Jobs magazine. The drop-in center is at the heart of success strategies for student veterans.
“Military service is a well-connected social culture, in which you protect your comrade regardless of personal feelings,” says Wert. “At the university, that camaraderie can be used to ‘bring your buddies with you’ as you work toward graduation.” Wert, who is a licensed social worker, has provided services to veterans at the Lowell Vet Center, the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Dayton, Ohio, Veterans Affairs Medical Center before joining the UMass Lowell staff. She has begun collaborations with other UMass campuses and a national network of colleagues. Wert plans to make UMass Lowell’s office of veterans services “one of the best” in the nation. “Our vets certainly deserve it,” she says.