Columbia Builds Upon Legacy of Supporting Veteran Students, Reaching Service Members and Veterans Nationwide

At Columbia University, the support provided to veterans extends well beyond the Morningside Campus gates. And at the School of General Studies, the veteran experience doesn’t end with graduation.

November 15, 2019

By providing support from the admissions process through each step of a student’s undergraduate academic journey and beyond, the School strives to support veteran students as they consider the future—whether that might include graduate school or a meaningful career. 

“There are thousands of graduate programs and careers that are eager to have veterans join. Often, my role is to challenge veteran students to consider different paths beyond their preconceived options by providing tools for introspection and reflection,” said Tiffany Decker, Senior Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of General Studies. 

In addition to individualized advising, the School of General Studies offers Graduate School Coaching, a series of workshops open to all students and alumni who are either considering graduate school or are actively applying. 

“I started graduate school coaching and support at GS in 2016 because, as a first-generation college student and the sister of a Navy veteran, I wanted to further the mission of GS to what I consider the next frontier of access work—promoting access to graduate and professional school education for nontraditional students. I love working with our veteran students, in particular, because their desire to have their values play a role in their future leads to many meaningful conversations and explorations,” said Dean Decker. 

Graduate School Coaching consists of 10 sessions that aid participants in exploring their graduate school options, which include JD, PhD, MBA, and MS degree programs around the world. The series also aids students in navigating the application process, which can be valuable for veteran students who may struggle with how to best communicate the experiences and lessons they gained during their service through their application materials.

“Guiding veterans in pulling together their mission, vision, and values results in, often, some of the most compelling and beautiful applications. We are fortunate to have GS veteran alumni in graduate programs ranging from Middle Eastern studies to social work, as well as in policy, law, medicine, and other areas,” said Decker.  

There are thousands of graduate programs and careers that are eager to have veterans join. Often, my role is to challenge veteran students to consider different paths beyond their preconceived options by providing tools for introspection and reflection.

Tiffany Decker, Senior Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of General Studies

Nicholas Mancini, a U.S. Army veteran who graduated from GS in 2019, enrolled in Graduate School Coaching as he was beginning to think more deeply about his graduate school and career path, and credits the experience as providing excellent preparation for the GRE, and changing the trajectory of his graduate studies. 

“Dean Decker helped me outline a study plan and provided me with tips for effective study habits, as the GRE is a very demanding test,” Mancini said. “I initially thought I wanted to study law, but the grad coaching course helped me realize there were more crucial areas of studying for my career ambitions.”

Currently, Mancini is studying Islamic studies at the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and hopes to pursue a career in the Foreign Service. 

Nationwide Support of Veterans

Next week, the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration (CVTI) will launch a free online version of Graduate School Coaching to veterans nationwide. The success of the program at GS—100 percent of the students who have completed the workshop were accepted into graduate schools of their choosing—led Dean Decker to create a tailored version focused on veterans currently in college, which could be delivered online, reaching veterans wherever they are.

2019 Columbia University Military Ball

The course will provide tips and tools for veterans to use during their undergraduate education to fully explore their options, whether or not they are sure graduate school is in their future. 

“By providing this framework, our goal is for veterans to be able to make fully informed and thoughtful decisions about their next steps. In the future, I will be working with CVTI on another course that will go deeper into the logistics of the application process for veteran students who, after going through the exploration phase, are ready to execute on their graduate school endeavors,” said Decker.

CVTI aims to prepare all veterans and military personnel transitioning out of active duty for higher education or meaningful careers beyond the military by offering free online programming and resources. According to Lieutenant Colonel Michael Abrams, Executive Director of the Center, nearly 3,000 military-connected individuals have been reached through the Center’s efforts since its founding in 2017.

Connecting with Alumni and the Wider Veteran Community

In addition to preparing students for their academic or professional aspirations after graduation, the School of General Studies strives to maintain and build its relationships with veteran students as they transition to alumni—and to forge and strengthen relationships with veterans who have no current affiliation with the Columbia University community.

This spring, the School of General Studies will co-host the 10th annual Columbia University Military Ball. The event, which celebrates Columbia’s distinguished veteran student community, is open to all Columbia students, alumni, and guests, regardless of military service. Proceeds support programming for veterans and military family members nationwide while strengthening support services for the 700+ veterans enrolled at Columbia.

Columbians celebrate at the 2019 NYC Veterans Day Parade

The Military Ball is a collaboration between The U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets), Columbia Veterans, the Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration, and the School of General Studies. 

In addition, for the 11th year in a row, GS was a major sponsor of the New York City Veterans Day Parade. Earlier this week, Professor Lisa Rosen-Metsch, Dean of the School of General Studies, joined Columbia University students, alumni, and friends on the School’s parade float to honor veterans and salute those currently serving.

“It is important to us at GS that our veteran students stay connected and feel engaged with the School after they’ve graduated, and we are constantly looking for ways to strengthen those connections,” said Aviva Zablocki, Director of Alumni Relations at the School of General Studies. “The Veterans Day Parade and Military Ball are wonderful opportunities to get together each year to honor and celebrate the growing veteran community at Columbia—as well as the wider veteran community in New York City and across the nation—and all that they are achieving.”

Dean Rosen-Metsch and students, alumni, and guests, on the GS float in the NYC Veterans Day Parade