|WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2009 – Military
veterans transitioning from service to the classroom face
challenges more complex than simply memorizing dates,
learning theories and mastering equations.|
Adjusting to the college environment, in
general, often is the most difficult part of the transition
from military life, said John Schupp, who recently launched
the Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran program
at Cleveland State University in Ohio, specifically designed
to help veteran students make those adjustments.
The program is open to veterans only and is geared to ease
them into student life rather than let them become
overwhelmed, Schupp said. Campus life and the bureaucracy of
a university can be a difficult transition for anyone,
especially someone coming from a military background, he
The idea for the program came in 2006 after Schupp, a
chemistry professor, received a call from a student who'd
been having trouble with her course work. The student was a
military veteran who spent nearly three years in Kosovo in
the late 1990s and had been in and out of college for the
eight years since, Schupp said.
The student explained how, after eight years, she finally
felt like a student and felt like she fit in as a member of
the university, he added.
“Listening to her talk about her experiences in Kosovo, then
[thinking about] her having to listen to a teacher and
freshman students discuss their issues and trying to make
that kind of adjustment, ... I thought to myself that this is
a problem that's going to happen time and again, and I want
to know what can I do about it,” he said.
Schupp began researching veterans' use of educational
benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill with the local and
state Veterans Affairs offices. He said he learned that
although money for college is one of the most appealing
reasons people join the military, fewer than 10 percent of
veterans actually take advantage of their educational
benefits. He interviewed Vietnam and Gulf War veterans over
a six-month period, asking why they didn't use their GI Bill
and what would have kept them in school, he added.
Most veterans claimed to have difficulty concentrating in
class, Schupp explained.
“So, my experiment was to change the environment,” he said.
“It's either the building or the people, so let me take the
civilians out of the equation.”
Schupp convinced university officials to permit a test class
to find out how veterans would do and react, he said. A
pilot class of 14 chemistry students took the first exam of
the program last spring, and the results were “remarkable,”
“It wasn't just circling or matching the answers,” Schupp
said. “They actually had to know and write out the answers.
They handed it in -- no one tore it up or walked out -- and
when I graded them, they had a higher average than my
The program's learning environment is much more comfortable,
because the veterans-only classes are much smaller than
classes open to the whole student population and the
students know everyone else in the classroom understands
them and has similar experiences.
“By taking the civilians out of the environment, it allows
[the veterans] to relax and focus on what they have to do as
well as give them the confidence to ... take the test and not
worry about the environment,” he said.
The veteran classes also have turned into “mini-counseling
sessions,” Schupp said. Because the classes are composed
entirely of veterans, the students speak openly about their
experiences and what they've been through.
“I didn't realize what was happening, but they get to class
about 15 minutes prior and talk about their issues,” he
explained. “So what's happening is they're having these
mini-counseling sessions four times a day, two days a week.
We've disguised counseling sessions with English 101, Math
101 and Science 101.”
Schupp also identified the issues veterans were having
during their first day on campus. Under the program,
veterans meet with someone one-on-one rather than dealing
with “long, confusing lines and the bureaucracy of
university registrations and admissions,” Schupp said.
Of the 14 original students, 10 went on to the summer
semester. By fall semester, 25 veteran students
participated, and 41 are enrolled for the current spring
semester, he said.
The program offers 12 credit hours of veterans-only classes
for the students' first semester, then nine credit hours for
the next, so full-time students have to take three credit
hours of civilian course work, Schupp said.
Universities and colleges and Veterans Affairs systems
across the country have taken interest in CSU's
veteran-student program, Schupp said. So far, 23
universities and colleges are considering offering the SERV
program as early as the fall semester, he added.