Faculty, staff can help student veterans, service members

During the Q&A following the Presidential Lecture Series featuring former Sen. Bob Kerrey this semester, a student serviceman stood to voice frustration with serving his country at the same time he attempts to earn his college degree. He was to deploy during the semester — before classes ended — and not all faculty members seemed to understand what to do in such situations.

Cases like his are what Purdue's Green Zone Training is meant to address. Faculty and staff who attend these two-hour workshops can learn how to address these and other challenges that face service members and veterans.

The term "Green Zone" is taken from an area in Baghdad that has been considered relatively safe. The goal of the training at Purdue is to better understand the unique attributes of military-connected students and create an awareness of resources available.

Jamie Richards, director of Purdue’s Veterans Success Center, says the challenges start the moment these students think about applying to Purdue.

"When they first inquire, they may not even identify themselves as veterans or service members — perhaps they are even still serving someplace like Afghanistan — so that needs to be among questions enrollment staff are prepared to ask when students apply," he said. "Have you served in the military? The answer will let the staff member know that the same process a typical applicant follows likely won't work for this potential student."

Each step presents wrinkles. There are nuances with residency and military transcripts and veteran’s benefits are very prescriptive. Those still serving have special obligations that are challenging.

For example, those in the Reserves or National Guard normally train one weekend each month, but occasionally have a longer three- or four-day weekend that prevents them from attending some classes. Faculty members need to know that there is a policy in place to support these students. When certified with the Office of the Dean of Students, military members can have 15 days of excused absence per academic year.

As for the concerns of the frustrated student who was about to deploy, if it's early in the semester, the University would refund his or her tuition and the classes will be removed from the transcript. If the semester is well along, as in this case, the faculty may give the student credit for the class and the current grade the student had earned to that point in the semester.

Personal challenges

Beyond the logistics, some challenges are personal.

In the classroom, student military personnel or veterans may present in ways puzzling to faculty. For example, harking back to their military experience, they may want to control their environment and choose to sit in the back of the class where they can always monitor what is happening. Their own life experience may not connect with what is being taught, and they may challenge the instructor. Given that many of them are older students, they may expect more respect for their insights.

"We hope faculty would accept that these students aren't being argumentative but instead bring real-world experience to the table," Richards said. "Ideally they would try to leverage that experience to help both the student and the class."

Some may have experienced mental or physical trauma that makes it difficult to absorb information quickly or concentrate for long periods. Faculty and staff who spot this could refer them to the Office of the Dean of Students or Disability Resource Center. 

“The faculty or staff member might be the first to notice that a student is struggling,” Richards said. “Talking to the student and listening can play an important role to help the student succeed.” Partnering with the ODOS, the DSC, or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can go a long way to support the student.

The Veterans Success Center has conducted about 30 Green Zone Training sessions in the past five years, reaching about 550 staff, students and faculty. The schedule for the summer and fall sessions is here.

"We've done a pretty good job of reaching our counseling and advising staff with the training, but we like to see more faculty and other staff taking part," Richards said.

Meanwhile, the center is reaching out to the students in several ways. One of the newest is called PAVE, which stands for Peer Advisors for Veterans. This peer-to-peer program connects incoming veterans and service members with someone already on campus who has already walked in their shoes and can help them navigate their first year.

The other is a pilot program called Education to Occupation. In partnership with the Center for Career Opportunities at Purdue, the new program hones interview and career search skills and connects the students with potential employers. 

More about the Green Zone training and demographics is available at here

May 2018

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