Mentoring Veteran Students

Roger Thompson

Today I had a meeting with a graduate student in higher ed administration, and she is working with our Veterans Affairs office.  Herself a veteran, she is seeking ways to encourage mentorship of student veterans, and she was investigating the possibility of faculty working with the veteran population at Stony Brook.  Of course, I think this is a valuable idea, and I think it may be especially valuable for those of us who are not ourselves connected with the military.  It provides opportunity for meaningful dialogue, and I suspect that in many cases, we have as much to learn from our students who are current or former service members as they do from us.   So, opportunities for mentorship are available, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in being part of a mentorship program.
I wanted, in the spirit of this, to share some of the materials I discussed last fall in our meeting about student veterans.  My central message in that meeting was that an asset-based approach to understanding the student veteran experience in our classrooms will help us reorient ourselves away from any lingering conceptions of student veterans as broken, disconnected, or even threatening.   While research suggests that the student veteran experience is, in fact, often very different than the proverbial “typical college student,” and while the research points to some common and consistent patterns of behaviors and experiences that might be labeled problematic, if we can reconceive of such things as reasonable and even valuable as part of our classroom experience, we might, in fact, build healthier communities and more sophisticated learning experiences.  Even in those unusual cases, such as when students with significant PTSD (whether from a war experience or from an experience that has nothing to do with the wars) populate our classes, we only benefit if we understand PTSD as a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation—if we see the symptoms of PTSD as a kind of adaptive response that was and is necessary until other responses can be developed.  We see, then, the symptoms as a kind of asset—a tool for survival—and avoid categorizing the experience in unproductive ways.  This is not to say that some symptoms do not need to be addressed.  Some absolutely must, but other symptoms will be virtually invisible to us, and those will be no less powerful in affecting our students.  The best we can do is to notice the work of our students, be aware of resources, be ready to lend a non-judgmental ear, and be a compassionate educator interested in the progress of our students as learners and as citizens.
Below are some resources available on campus.  In a follow-up post, I will summarize some of the key findings of the research on veterans in writing classes that my colleague, Alexis Hart, and I conducted.  I will also include a few notes on commonly reported symptoms of student veterans with PTSD, TBI, or lingering stress.  Keep in mind that the vast majority of veterans do not suffer from PTSD and that our job is not to diagnose students, but simply notice behaviors that may be inhibiting student learning.
Veterans Affairs | 632-6700 | Administration Room 348
Director:  Ismael (Izzy) Rodriguez
Veterans Affairs provides services, such as VA benefits guidance and mentorship, to veterans, veterans’ dependents and active duty service members.  Located on the third floor of the Administration Building near the Main Entrance of the campus in room 348.  Izzy also oversees the veterans student group on campus.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards | 632-7114 | Melville Library N-3005
This office provides current and prospective students with scholarship and fellowship opportunities, program information, and intellectual support.

 Ombuds Office | 632-9200 | Melville Library W-0505
The Ombuds Office is available to assist students in resolving difficult problems or disputes related to their lives at the University. All matters handled by the Ombuds Office remain confidential. 

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) | 632-6720 | Student Health Center
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers free and confidential services to currently enrolled students taking at least six credit hours. Included are crisis intervention, brief counseling for individuals, couples, groups, consultation to students, faculty, staff, friends, and parents, and assistance with referrals to community resources.

Disability Support | 632-6748 | Education Communications Services (DSS) Center Room 128
Disability Support Services coordinates advocacy and support services for students with disabilities. These services assist in integrating students’ needs with the resources available at the University to eliminate physical or programmatic barriers and to ensure an accessible academic environment.

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2 Responses to Mentoring Veteran Students

  1. Roger,

    Thank you for these resources.

    Does any of this type of research relate to veterans from other countries? I am thinking especially of the Korean men who join our undergraduate schools.

    Carolyn Sofia

  2. Roger Thompson says:

    That’s a great question, and one I hadn’t really considered until I came here. Some of these resources do apply, but the veterans office here typically does not deal with foreign nationals who are veterans. That’s simply a function of man power–they are so caught up in dealing with GI Bill benefits with the current veterans that they simply don’t have the time or manpower to reach out to other groups. Now, I don’t know what the student veterans here would think of a group of foreign veterans joining their ranks. I’m not sure if that’s even desirable, or what that would look like. I just don’t know. But, that’s a topic, thanks to you, I think should be broached.

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