After a period of sacrifice and service to the United States, re-entering civilian life can be daunting for many Chippewa Valley veterans. In an effort to help them thrive in a post-service world, area higher education institutions are helping military veterans receive a higher education and start a new career.
The three primary higher educational campuses in the Chippewa are Chippewa Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Stout and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. All three of these colleges offer unique services and opportunities for active duty military and veterans in accordance with their different student bodies.
Sarah Godsave, military education benefits coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Stout, said the school is very proactive in offering services to veterans because they know higher education is important to many military service members.
“We know the number one reason individuals join the military is to access higher education,” Godsave said. “About 70 percent of veterans are first-generation students, so they’re doing something for the first time in their family’s history and they want to know it’s going to be worthwhile for them by having a lucrative for career for them and their family when they graduate. I think Stout’s job placement rate, our affordability and our practical degrees really appeal to those people who we know joined the military and want to access higher education. So, being able to provide something to them that will make it worthwhile for them is really important to me as someone who works in higher education and is also a veteran myself.”
About five percent of UW-Stout’s campus are veterans, a number Godsave said sticks in the mind of the school’s administration when crafting the services they offer students. UW-Stout offers veterans efficient benefit certification including disability services, financial aid and student support services such as counseling and tutoring. Programs and degrees crafted to appeal to veterans at the school include practical programs such as polytechnic degrees in construction, engineering and information technologies.
One common provider of services to area veterans is the Veterans Association, but due to UW-Stout being in the relatively rural area of Menomonie a sizeable distance from the VA in Minneapolis, Stout has partnered with the VAs in La Crosse and Duluth to help bring services and representatives to the campus to help make these possible benefits a reality.
Godsave said the services UW-Stout offers veterans is constantly changing through the study of their student population and the fluid needs they have.
“We do our best to try and understand the veteran population by finding out who our students are and what they need on campus,” Godsave said. “We focus a lot on removing barriers, especially for our students in the National Guard and the reserves who may be called to service for a year or six months at a time and then having to re-enter the university.”
Additionally UW-Stout has constructed a Military and Veterans Resource Center on their campus, a centralized location for veterans to meet, study and relax. Another program currently in development at UW-Stout is a peer-to-peer mentoring program that will aim to pair military service members together for support personally and professionally.
Godsave said the services that UW-Stout offers will continue to change as new services become available on-and-off the Menomonie campus.
“We try to focus on not just resources on campus, but also off-campus resources as well,” Godsave said. “When a lot of young post 9/11 veterans leave active duty, they are really unplugging from a huge support system. So, now we try to help them manage everything on their own sometimes for the first time in their life.”
Also providing higher education opportunities for veterans in the UW system is UW-Eau Claire, which offers some similar benefits and opportunities as UW-Stout.
UW-Eau Claire has earned a long-standing reputation of aiding veterans through offering a wide assortment of services and opportunities. About 500 veterans and military dependents currently attend the university, and the school has been recognized as military friendly by multiple publications.
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The Eau Claire-based institution regularly reaches out to area veterans through benefits fairs, job expos and National Guard armories to encourage military personnel to attend the university. Once a veteran has chosen UW-Eau Claire to pursue a new career, the school’s Veteran and Military Services office reaches out to students to determine whether they need individualized assistance with the VA education benefit application process to help alleviate stress and confusion.
Miranda Cross-Schindler, veteran and military services manager for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said the school devotes a large amount of time and energy to accommodating veterans and helping them thrive because they come into the university at a different point in their life than the typical college student does.
“They’re in a unique population with different needs than the traditional age student,” Cross-Shindler said. “It’s not your typical freshman who come here, live in the dorms and eat in the caf. Men and women coming out of the service just have different needs than 18- or 19-year-olds do.”
UW-Eau Claire offers a variety of programming aimed at improving the lives of its veteran population as well. Some of these ideas and programs include trying to translate military experience into civilian work, offering resume workshops, helping with personal finance management and through individual counselors helping veterans find a career path in their skill set.
Cross-Schindler said the programming UW-Eau Claire offers constantly ebbs and flows based upon the feedback her department receives through regular surveys it conducts on campus.
“Our programming evolves around what the needs are at any certain time,” Cross-Schindler said. “We’ve done programming specific to female veterans in the past, we do programming based around what’s going on in the current climate and overall try to keep a finger on the pulse of the community to try and figure out programming based upon what we hear from the students.”
Additionally, the school also briefs the rest of the student body on the importance of integrating veterans and military service members through “Veterans Awareness Training,” conducted each semester to help inform the campus community on topics related to military students including their representation in the school’s demographics, do’s and don’ts when communicating with veterans and providing an overview of two areas for veterans to congregate and relax including the Veterans Club and Veterans Center.
Similar to UW-Stout, the school offers priority registration for veterans, veteran-specific scholarships, complimentary red/white/blue commencement cords and a VA work study program.
Another institution, Chippewa Valley Technical College, has campuses throughout the Chippewa Valley and offers a variety of services to area veterans and active-duty military members. CVTC is a military-friendly college, offers priority registration for veterans and hosts a fall meet and greet where the institution offers veterans opportunities to meet each other and learn from different agencies about insurance, financial aid and more.
Deb Ludwikowski, records and registration assistant for Chippewa Valley Technical College, said it is important to help veterans thrive and find new careers through higher education so they can settle into civilian life and live happy lives once their service to the United States transitions from active military service to contributing to everyday society.
“It’s valuable for them to receive a higher education after or during their period of service,” Ludwikowski said. “They have benefits that help them out while they go through school and it’s also valuable for them when they enter the job market and be able to attain employment.”
When veterans re-enter civilian life and are looking for a new career after years of service, that process can be a daunting one. And while the needs of this population continue to change, area higher education institutions will continue to adapt and change to help veterans thrive and enter the next stage of their lives.