More veterans, service member support on campus

James Day

New student James Day is one of 429 military veterans enrolled at UMSL this fall. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Although he grew up in Canada and Vermont, new University of Missouri–St. Louis student James Day is no stranger to the Midwest.

Enrolling as a criminology and criminal justice major last month, Day, 25, has returned to the same state where he completed four years of service in the U.S. Army, this time with plans to become a park ranger.

He’s one of 429 veterans studying at UMSL this semester – about 17 percent more than last fall – and he’s making the most of his G.I. Bill to pursue a career that lines up with his love of the outdoors and staying active at work.

“I enjoy working with my hands and don’t want to be sitting, staring at a screen,” said Day, who gained experience in plumbing and heating while stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. He headed back to civilian life in Vermont two years ago, but connections in Missouri, his growing interest in park and resource management, and the strong reputation of UMSL’s nationally ranked CCJ program drew him back.

“I’ve never been to a large college before, but it seems like UMSL professors are really accessible,” said Day, adding that he’s already been amazed by the range of useful resources available to students, from the Writing Center to test preparation to the Veterans Center.

Along with courses in CCJ, biology, communication and music history this fall, Day is also taking a Veteran Transition class with several fellow veterans. Taught by retired Army Lt. Col. James Craig, associate teaching professor and chair of the Department of Military and Veterans Studies, the group covers some of the same topics that might come up in a college-transition class composed of mostly 18-year-olds. But Craig’s section tailors the curriculum to its unique audience.

“Because of its experience educating adult learners along with more traditional students, UMSL is a great place for a veteran to study,” Craig said. “As welcoming as UMSL is, not all veterans transition to college life smoothly. In the transition course we focus on the goal – success in college. From there we identify techniques, strategies and resources that can help a veteran accomplish that goal.”

It also provides a venue for veterans to connect and share their common experiences, Craig said.

UMSL’s support for student veterans has grown dramatically in a matter of months. The popular Veterans Center in Clark Hall 211 opened in late 2012, offering space for study and socializing and serving as a convenient hub of assistance and resources. The academic department Craig oversees is also young, established in the fall of 2013 with the first courses offered this past spring.

Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the initiative reflects a holistic approach to education that is appealing to veterans and their families.

“In all honesty, most of the need for greater support and understanding for student veterans was articulated by veterans who were on our Undergraduate Student Council,” Yasbin said. “They identified the needs and articulated the necessary remediations. Serendipitously, this came at a time that we were able to hire professor Craig and develop the Department of Military and Veterans Studies.”

The increased efforts haven’t gone unnoticed in the broader community. UMSL recently announced three recent gifts in support of the Veterans Center and veteran students.

At a reception Sept. 9, the university formally thanked UMSL staff member Karen Bartoni and her family for creating the First Sergeant Gerald A. Barbee Veterans Jubilee Endowed Scholarship in memory of Bartoni’s father.

Also celebrated at the event was a gift from the Hellenic Spirit Foundation, with board member Nick Karakas on hand to present a $5,000 check to the Veterans Center. Bank of America contributed $10,000 for programming, including special events, seminars and guest speakers.

Update: On Sept. 23, UMSL was named a Military Friendly School® by Victory Media. UMSL will be listed in the 2015 Guide to Military Friendly Schools along with other post-secondary institutions being honored for a strong commitment to the country’s service members, veterans and their spouses and families.

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