For prospective students who are currently deployed overseas, navigating the University’s complicated application process takes a back seat to the more pressing concerns of military service.
LSA junior Wayne Bulinda, president of the newly-formed Student Veterans Association at the University, said the Navy helped him with the discharge process, but he was on his own when he applied to the University.
Bulinda said he didn’t know who to talk to about his application or what benefits he would receive as a veteran. And at the time, no one at the University knew, either.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” Bulinda said. “I got bounced around to several different offices.”
In an effort to help former service members transition from the military to the University, officials have formed the University’s Student Veterans.
The council, created by Lester Monts, the University’s senior vice provost for academic affairs, and Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs, will address the needs and concerns of student veterans.
“We all have a deep sense of gratitude to our veterans,” Hower said. “If they are interested in pursuing an education and think that Michigan is the right place for them, then we want to make that happen.”
Hower said the Office of the Registrar had already partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure students get G.I. Bill benefits and that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has counselors who understand the needs of veteran applicants. But Hower said veterans often have trouble accessing those services because of the lack of communication between the separate offices.
Now, the Office of New Student Programs and the U-M Council on Student Veterans will lead efforts to organize all affairs for student veterans at the University.
“The goal is to coordinate these resources,” Hower said. “A lot is already in place, but people might not be aware of it.”
The Office of New Student Programs will hire a “transition specialist” to serve as a liaison between University offices and student veterans and assist students with the deployment and return processes involved in military service.
To help veterans acclimate to their new surroundings at the University, the ONSP will coordinate a mentorship program that matches prospective and new students with upperclassmen and faculty veteran mentors.
According to Drew Tinnin, assistant director of the ONSP, mentors will help student veterans work with the University administration to provide social support as the students adjust to the significant change in lifestyle.
Tinnin said the by the end of the semester the Office of New Student Programs will launch a website be accessible to students on campus and in active military service. He said the site would provide step-by-step instructions explaining how students can apply to the University and arrange to receive financial aid.
The site will provide contact information for University officials who have experience in dealing with the concerns of student veterans, Tinnin said.
The council’s projects, including the new student veterans liaison position, the website and the mentoring program, will be financed by the Office of New Student Programs and the Office of the Provost. The start-up cost for the program is about $70,000.
LSA junior Derek Blumke, founding president of the University’s Student Veterans Association and president of the national group Student Veterans of America, first approached university officials about improving resources for student veterans last fall.
Blumke said the University’s efforts will make it easier for veterans to apply and get the benefits to which they are entitled.
“The whole application process at the majority of college campuses is geared to the high school graduate – not the person who just served a year in Iraq,” Blumke said. “Now they can focus more on what they’re doing overseas instead of trying to deal with the bureaucracy of the university.”