Students Bryan Graham, Irina Biedenstein and Jeff Luffman

UMSL student veterans Bryan Graham, Irina Biedenstein and Jeff Luffman talk during a Triton Vets meet and greet event. All three served in the United States Army. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis has continually worked to support its military-connected students, cultivating an environment where they can fully pursue their educational and career goals.

In recognition of these efforts, Military Times included UMSL on its “Best for Vets: Colleges” list for the ninth consecutive year. The university was ranked No. 123 nationally, including 16th in the central region.

The publication aims to have the largest and most comprehensive rankings of schools for military service members and veterans to help them make decisions about their education. It included 325 institutions in its 2023 rankings.

“We’ve established strong supports for our veteran students throughout academic and student affairs, which enables us to create an environment that honors their service and acknowledges their unique life experiences,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jessica Long-Pease said. “Being included again this year is a testament to UMSL’s dedication to serving its military-connected students.”

Jim Craig, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said he was proud of the ranking but unsurprised by UMSL’s inclusion on the list.

“UMSL is successful with its veteran students not because of our great Veterans Center or because of Triton Vets,” he said. “UMSL is successful because it has a culture of inclusion and support that extends to learners of all types – veterans are just one of those types.”

Ryan Cody, the interim coordinator of the Veterans Center, concurred.

“The amount of support that our veteran students get from all offices on campus makes everything they’ve got to do on campus to get their college goals completed so much easier,” Cody said. “From Student Affairs to the faculty, every area is really supportive of our student veterans.”

The Veterans Center, which part of the Division of Student Affairs, serves as a campus hub where veteran and military-connected students can gather to study or socialize in a comfortable space. The center is also a vital resource for academic support and advising. The center’s friendly, knowledgeable staff members ensure students have their requisite paperwork certified in order to receive their benefits and remain enrolled in classes.

Director of Student Advocacy in Student Affairs Robin Kimberlin has been instrumental in leading the Veterans Center’s continued commitment to the more than 350 veteran and other military-connected students on campus – including some children and spouses of veterans receiving G.I. Bill benefits.

“At UMSL, we take a strategic approach to recognizing the early needs of veterans when they first transition from the military to higher education and the long game of supporting their personal growth and empowering them to integrate into the campus community, their academic cohorts and career paths,” she said. “We want our Veterans Center to be their first stop, not their only stop. Our campus has so much to offer and we see it as part of our mission to create a bridge.”

Cody, a student veteran working toward his bachelor’s degree, can personally attest to the value of the Veterans Center.

“A lot of schools have a less seamless method for students to use veteran benefits,” he said. “So, when I first started coming here and submitted all my paperwork, I was calling up to the Veterans Center every week for about three weeks. I just couldn’t believe that it was as easy as they made it for me. Everything got taken care of, and there’s a whole staff here that cared and made sure everything was taken care of for me.”

Students can also connect with Triton Vets at the center. The student organization aims to support those transitioning from military life to university life. Irina Biedenstein, president of the organization, said the group helps people get connected to the campus and provides the camaraderie many grew accustomed to in the military.

“A decade ago, UMSL leadership made a commitment and an investment to become the premier university in the state for veterans,” Craig said. “They have followed through on that commitment. I am proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to what the future holds.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe