Stepping foot on a college campus can be a daunting experience. Traditional freshmen are immersed in the college environment. Surrounded by peers, the experience, while still challenging, becomes slightly less so. When non-traditional students arrive on campus, it can be a different experience.
Often separated by age, work, life experience and family obligations sometimes including spouses and children; non-traditional students need different resources to adjust to the new environment. While there are many types of non-traditional students, many non-traditional students on the University of Missouri campus are military veterans.
A Resource for Student Veterans
On August 2007, the Task Force for a Veteran-Friendly Campus was created to examine issues that affect veterans on the MU campus. Per recommendation of the task force, the MU Veterans Center was established in December 2007. The MU Veterans Center is a full-service center, meeting the needs of student veterans and taking full ownership of all things veteran on campus. The center coordinates veteran’s education benefits for more than 800 veterans and dependents.
The Veterans Center is a resource for student veterans and their families from admission to graduation and is dedicated to the integration of veterans into the MU community. In addition to serving as a resource for mentoring, tutoring, housing and financial and personal issues for MU student veterans, the Veterans Center serves as a network of social support.
“Our focus is serving students, we’re here to help,” Robert Ross, director of the MU Veterans Center, said. “We want to eliminate some of the burdens of our student veterans and focus on the success of our students. More importantly, our doors are always open. The Veterans Center is a place for students to visit with fellow veterans who have shared in their experience in the military and at MU.”
Ross became the director of the MU Veterans Center this September. Ross served in the Marine Corps for 20 years and has a long history with the University of Missouri; holding previous positions including instructor for the Asian Affairs Center/Missouri International Training Institute and affinity engagement coordinator for the Mizzou Alumni Association.
Ross said that in a higher-education setting, peer-to-peer communication is essential and powerful. Each semester the Veterans Center employs student veterans through a work-study program funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The student veterans promote positive communication between the center and incoming and current student veterans.
“Our student workers can personally relate to veterans through a ‘been there, done that’ approach,” Ross said. “They serve as a primary point of contact for veterans on campus and contribute significantly to our two person full-time staff.”
Ross said that his vision for the Veterans Center is to continue increasing communication between the veterans and the Columbia and MU communities. He said that the center will continue to create collaborations with the community to overcome barriers for veterans and provide additional opportunities for quality involvement for students.
Ross encourages a strong student veteran voice on campus. To continue examining the needs of student veterans and how the center can improve to meet those needs, Ross says the center will reach out to all student veterans through a survey soon.
Mizzou Veterans Week
One of the many collaborations of the Veterans Center is with the Mizzou Student Veterans Association (MSVA), the official veteran student organization at MU. The Veterans Center participates in the annual Mizzou Veterans Week in coordination with MU Student Life and the assistance of other MU staff and organizations across campus. The week of activities honor, remember and celebrate Mizzou veterans.
“I am excited to join the Veterans Center team at this special time when we publicly honor the contributions and sacrifices made by the brave men and women who serve or have served in uniform,” Ross said.
Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts headlined the week of events in 2015.