Instead of flipping burgers or babysitting, their resumes include things like blowing up doors with plastic explosives, fixing nuclear-powered ships and dodging enemy bullets.
Understandably, such life experiences can make it tough for military veterans to relate to other college students. But the University of California, Irvine offers a number of programs to smooth the transition.
“UCI bends over backwards for its veterans in a way that, to my knowledge, no other school in the country has matched,” says Harwood Garland, an anthropology major who served as a Navy medic in Iraq.
One of the top benefits – which UCI pioneered in 2011 – is guaranteed campus housing for veterans and their families. Most vets choose graduate apartments because living “in a community of similar-aged people” makes adjusting to campus life easier, says David Kok, a former Marine pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering & materials science.
Other veteran-friendly benefits at UCI include priority class registration, scholarships for those who have exhausted their GI Bill payments, an annual appreciation banquet, workshops, social groups, and training that helps faculty and staff better understand students with military backgrounds.
The hub for all this activity is UCI’s Veteran Services Center, a resource clearinghouse and lounge outfitted with Persian Gulf maps, cozy seating and two Apple computer workstations. Here, director Adeli Lucia Duron offers advice and processes paperwork for about 200 vets and nearly 500 dependents eligible for college aid.
“Student-veterans bring a unique and valuable perspective to the campus community,” she says. “The leadership skills and strengths they’ve gained in the military are real assets.”
In recent years, universities across the U.S. have stepped up their efforts to attract and assist veterans.
Returning to civilian life can be jarring, especially without a strong support network, Kok says: “I’ve had friends kill themselves because they couldn’t handle the adjustment. … UCI is a role model of what we should do to get it right. There’s something about the campus that brings in veterans who are willing to talk and reach out to each other, which is crucial.”
U.S. News & World Report recently ranked UCI the 32nd-best national university for veterans, trailing only UCLA among UC schools. The magazine also rated UCI’s online Master of Advanced Study in criminology, law & society the best of its kind for veterans and active-duty service members.
More offerings are on tap.
In the winter quarter, Duron hopes to launch a Veterans in Higher Education course in partnership with the School of Social Sciences. Co-taught by associate professor of political science Caesar Sereseres, the class would promote camaraderie among vets while introducing them to a broad array of UCI resources and programs.
And The Paul Merage School of Business plans to host a one-week entrepreneurship program for veterans in late February.