GS Sets Example for Veteran Support in Elite Higher Education
Adjusting to civilian life, in addition to a new academic environment, can prove to be an added hurdle that veteran students face after deciding to return to school. The School of General Studies recognizes the unique diversity and specific needs of veteran students, and strives to create a supportive environment as they fulfill their academic goals, drawing on its decades of experience.
By offering resources, programs, and opportunities for veteran students to engage with each other, as well as the wider GS and University communities, the School aims to ensure that each veteran student who arrives on campus feels well supported and has the tools they need to make the most of their time at Columbia University.
Knowing the people around you and finding commonality is important for putting oneself in a position to learn.
Providing veterans with financial services is often an essential piece of the support they receive once they decide to enroll at the School of General Studies. The School has been a proud participant of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP) since 2009. The benefits provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the YRP make a Columbia University education accessible to eligible veterans, regardless of socioeconomic status, and more than 230 currently-enrolled veteran students have received financial aid benefits afforded by the YRP program during their time at GS.
“The support provided by the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program is crucial in making an Ivy League education possible for U.S. military veterans. The Office of Educational Financing is committed to providing support for veteran students, and we are always looking for ways to improve. As part of that ongoing effort, we hired two dedicated staff members who focus specifically on assisting the veteran student population,” said Daniel Rodriguez, Director of Educational Financing at the School of General Studies.
The School of General Studies also has dedicated administrative staff that ensure that veteran students are integrated into all aspects of campus life. David Keefe, Senior Assistant Dean of Veteran Initiatives, joined the School of General Studies in 2015. In addition to having served as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, he is also an award-winning artist and educator. Dean Keefe oversees all veterans initiatives including hosting workshops, advising, and managing the resources offered to veterans at the School.
“Through the various veterans initiatives at GS, we strive to help fulfill veterans’ academic and health and wellness needs and build community, seeking to centralize resources, develop programs, and create opportunities for all veteran students to transition and integrate at Columbia University,” said Dean Keefe. “Knowing the people around you and finding commonality is important for putting oneself in a position to learn.”
Through the GS Veteran Mentoring Program, incoming veteran students are matched with current veteran students who, having personally experienced the challenges of a first semester, assist new students in navigating the resources available to them. When veteran students arrive on campus for their first semester, the amount of resources and support available may be overwhelming and having a peer who can help navigate them can be helpful.
We are committed to developing and implementing the help needed for veteran students to build community and connect with the tools needed to eventually realize their goals in life.
The Mentorship Program is designed to last no longer than a student’s first semester to encourage and support resiliency. The hope is that as veteran students acclimate to their new academic setting, they will become familiar with the resources available to them as they continue navigating their time at Columbia and beyond.
“GS supports crucial peer-to-peer interaction through the GS Veteran Mentoring program, the official student group U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University, other student veteran groups across campus, the Crafting Commonality series, performing arts programs, career initiatives, service projects, and more,” explained Dean Keefe. “We are committed to developing and implementing the help needed for veteran students to build community and connect with the tools needed to eventually realize their goals in life.”
The U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets) was formed in 2002 by a group of students at GS to foster camaraderie and networking opportunities in the veteran community. Today, MilVets is the largest veteran student organization in the Ivy League, including men and women who have served in every branch of the armed forces all over the world. Through this organization, veteran students are able to take an active role in cultivating a sense of community, hosting a number of events and opportunities that address veterans issues. The group strives to promote diversity and understanding, closing the gap between the nation’s military and the society it serves.
Since its founding in 1947, the School of General Studies has recognized the impact that valuable resources and a strong community have on a veteran student’s academic experience, and our commitment remains unchanged: GS continues to be a place where veterans—of other countries’ armed services as well as of the United States—can begin the next chapter of their lives in a supportive community.