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American Today

Student Life

AU Named One of America’s Most Veteran Friendly Colleges

By Mike Unger

Sgt. Jordan Jackson, 27, is a student in AU’s post-baccalaureate premedical program. A medic in the Virginia Army National Guard, Jackson is currently stationed in Iraq and hopes to return to AU in spring 2010.

Sgt. Jordan Jackson is a student in AU’s post-baccalaureate premedical program.

The adjustment to college life for any student is challenging, but for a veteran, it can be overwhelming.

“It’s multifaceted,” said Adam L’Episcopo, an American University senior who fought in Iraq. “[Veterans] are generally older than the college students. They mostly don’t live on campus, most of them transfer in. If you take all that into consideration, in addition to spending years in a completely different culture like the military and compound that with the fact that they may have deployed to combat zones, there’s just a disconnect from the average student. It’s harder for them to find a place where they fit in.”

Enter the AU Veterans Liaison Network. Comprising representatives from departments, including disability support services, academic services, and financial aid, the coalition was assembled in 2009 to ease veterans’ transitions from the military to the university. The group meets monthly.

“The research we have is pretty clear—student veterans feel extra challenges either entering or re-entering college life,” said Traci Callandrillo, AU’s assistant director for clinical services. “We wanted to bring together all these different offices to facilitate communication.”

It’s worked. G.I. Jobs magazine announced today that it has named AU a “Military Friendly School” for 2011. Just 1,224 of nearly 7,000 eligible colleges (15 percent) received the distinction.

“We look for schools that offer military discounts, scholarship programs, credit for military training,” said Dan Fazio, G.I. Jobs’ managing editor. “Do they offer online classes, distance learning, weekend classes? Are they a Yellow Ribbon school?”

Enacted in 2008, the Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It allows institutions of higher learning to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Veterans Administration to fund tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. The institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses, and the VA will match.

AU veterans praise the school for participating in the program, but financial concerns are only one obstacle that can make for a rocky transition to college. That’s why they formed Veterans of American University.

“My hopes for the organization are manyfold,” said its incoming president, Charlie Fowler, a third-year law student who enlisted in the army in October 2001. “I would like it to be a place where veteran and nonveteran students can interact, so civilian students can learn why we joined, what we got out of our military service, maybe find inspiration to serve other people in some capacity.
“It is also a place where veteran students can learn from nonvet students, about what it means to just be a college kid,” he said. “Vet students—many of whom are nontraditional in that they are older, married or divorced, and have served in the military, many overseas—can meet with other students who are of their peer group.”

Through its participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program and the creation of the Veterans Liaison Network, AU has taken an active role in welcoming men and women who have served their country to this campus. It’s an approach that Fowler believes will be mutually beneficial.

“We can let the student body, staff, and faculty know the unique challenges that veteran students face, the obstacles that we have to overcome, and what we require from the school to help,” he said. “The flip side of that coin is that we have much to offer to the school. A professor can talk about what they have studied about a foreign culture, or about warfare, intelligence gathering, detainee operations, but we can speak about it from first-hand experience. We can be a resource for the academic community.”