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Student Veterans Use Career Experience to Maximize Opportunities at AU

By Devin Symons

James McRedmond joins other students in uniform on campus.

James McRedmond, second from left, joins other students in uniform on campus.

After three years with the Marine Corps’ First Stinger Battery in Okinawa and one tour of duty in Iraq, Mohamed Sheriff, CAS/MFA '16, decided to pursue a graduate degree. He knew he wanted to write about his personal and military experiences, and after receiving an honorable discharge, he began searching for a school that could best accommodate his career ambitions.

“When I looked into AU's program, there was something different about it that I was really attracted to,” says Sheriff. He joined the Creative Writing MFA program in the fall of 2013.

According to the Military Friendly Schools List for 2014 released by G.I. Jobs, American University (AU) ranks in the top 15 percent of colleges and universities for its support of veteran and active-duty students.

Matt Jukich, CAS/BA ‘17, entered AU last fall as an undergraduate. During his military service, he found himself advising fellow soldiers on financial matters, and later decided that he wanted to pursue a degree in finance. As a native of the Washington, D.C., area, he found AU to be a natural fit.

“It’s good being back in an academic environment,” says Jukich. The two cultures—academic and military—are very different, he says. “Here, if you don’t show up on time, nobody’s going to chase you down and drag you to class.”

James McRedmond, CAS/BA ‘15, agrees that the move to academic life after military service requires some adjustment.

“It has been a challenge in some respects,” says McRedmond, “but it is just a matter of adapting to our surroundings, something the military has taught us to do well.”

McRedmond spent three years as a hospital corpsman and was deployed twice, to Iraq and Afghanistan. He left the Navy in August of 2012, and is studying public health at AU.

“I always had the goal of pursuing medical school… so I joined the Navy to gain valuable experience and have college paid for,” he says. “Public health is a field I have a vested interest in, and I thought it would make me a more well-rounded doctor.”

He says he has found a supportive environment at AU.

“AU is becoming more and more veteran-friendly each semester,” says McRedmond. “Most professors understand that veterans are non-traditional students who may also have families and also work alongside going to school, so they are willing to help when needed.”

AU has a number of initiatives designed to support veterans and to help ease their transition to university life. The university participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, matching G.I. Bill funds to ensure that qualifying students receive tuition assistance. Valerie Verra, AU’s veteran services administrator, acts as a liaison for student veterans, working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure they receive all of the benefits they have earned through service.

“It’s really great to have someone on campus who’s always there to help us out,” says Jukich. He also mentions the Veterans’ Liaison Network, a team of AU staff members from various departments, including the Career Center, which acts as principal contacts for veterans, addressing their concerns and helping them to achieve their educational and professional goals.

“Career advisors recognize that student veterans come to the center with significant life experience,” says Brian Rowe, director of experiential education in the Career Center. “They have spent years working in mission critical situations which career advisors can help them equate to civilian career situations.”

Sheriff says he appreciates the support.

“AU’s effort [to welcome veterans] speaks to an awareness of America's shifting demographics,” says Sheriff. “Many prior servicemen and women are returning from two wars. At AU, many of them are in programs that relate to the world of foreign policy or to skill-sets they gained experience with when they served.”

Sheriff is employed at the National Endowment for the Arts, which he calls “a great place to work” and which allows him to pursue his passion for arts and literature.

On Veterans Day in 2013, AU opened a new Veterans Lounge as a place for veteran and active duty students to congregate and relax. Overall, veterans express satisfaction with the university's efforts to support them and the strong community that has formed here.

“I value the fact that AU actively seeks to reach out to its veteran students,” says Sheriff. “It makes you feel good to be in an environment that sees significance in your past experiences.”

AU student veterans are encouraged to visit the Career Center and make use of additional resources, including AUCareerWeb.