GV Veterans Program Expands as MVAA Awards University Gold Recognition – Grand Valley Lanthorn

After serving their country, many veterans bear invisible scars for the rest of their lives.

However, Grand Valley State University has made it a goal to provide resources for all veterans to remind them that they are not alone in their personal post-war battles.

These efforts are being recognized as the university has again been considered a top college destination for veterans seeking higher education.

GVSU was awarded Gold status by the Michigan Veterans Agency in late August for the eighth consecutive year.

This much-appreciated recognition indicates that GVSU has created a supportive and accommodating environment for veterans on campus.

For veterans who decide to pursue a college-level education, GVSU entities have been visibly and vocally loyal in their efforts to provide housing for the needs of United States military veterans.

One such entity, the Peter Secchia Military and Veterans Resource Center, focuses its efforts on promoting inclusive environments and support systems for veterans at GVSU.

Jill Hinton Wolfe, a United States Army veteran and GVSU alumnus who currently serves as the military and veteran resource manager, describes the program’s mission as having an “overarching and ambitious goal of helping those who have done their military service to reach their highest potential”.

Assistance from the program can range from financial support to mental health and academic achievement.

“Our goal is to ensure their success,” Wolfe said. “If there’s anything or anyone they need help with, I’ll always be that person for them.”

Regarding GVSU’s status as a model of veteran support, Wolfe said the success of the university’s efforts and Gold recognition is the result of many people helping to support veterans on campus.

“From his first days on campus [GVSU President Philomena Mantella] showed a nuanced appreciation of both the challenges these students face and the diverse value they bring to campus,” Wolfe said.

Various other individuals and organizations at GVSU contribute to the recognized success of the university’s veteran support system.

Dr. Ernest Park, an associate professor of social psychology at GVSU, has spent time coaching veteran students who applied for graduate school.

In addition to academic staff, GVSU has also implemented policies and protocols designed to facilitate the admissions process for veterans and establish resources to help them navigate the college environment.

Veterans who graduated from high school in Michigan and served in the U.S. military for at least two years may receive pre-approved admission to college. This admission can be deferred until each veteran is ready to begin their academic journey.

As for his own efforts, Wolfe has worked to ensure military veterans receive the opportunities and help they need. Wolfe has been particularly vocal about her advocacy for underrepresented military veterans like women, veterans with disabilities, veterans of color, and those in the LGBTQ community.

GVSU, Wolfe said, also has some of the hardest working and most involved veterans on campus.

“Nationally, they have higher graduation rates (grade point averages) and they accept tougher majors than their civilian counterparts,” Wolfe said.

Travis Snyder, a veteran U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and current GVSU student who is president of Laker Vets, said the veterans program offers the help Wolfe mentioned.

“GVSU is definitely vet-friendly, which was a big influence on my college decision,” Snyder said. “This program helps me and many others fight all the intimate battles we experience after service with the variety of resources they provide us with.”

In addition to helping retired soldiers in areas where they might be struggling, the GVSU Veterans Support Apparatus also helps them rekindle a sense of community they may have lost since their return home.

“The military will always be a community unto itself,” Wolfe said. “At GVSU, we try to rebuild that by establishing that all veterans have aspirations they want to achieve outside of war and combat.”

Snyder agreed with Wolfe that the program made him feel like he had a veteran family in college.

Considering the sacrifices veterans have made while serving and those made to further their education at GVSU, Wolfe said the university strives to provide assistance in any way necessary.

Wolfe said the university hosts many events with the goal of not only offering support, but also making the college experience enjoyable and fun.

“We host several veteran-related events throughout the year, including three separate events on Veterans Day to commemorate their service,” Wolfe said. “Additionally, last year we sent nine military-related students to the National Conference of Student Veterans of America and we offer veterans flexible opportunities to work on campus through the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] Work-study program.

Snyder said veterans have the opportunity to join the GVSU Student Veterans of America chapter, Laker Vets.

“We try to find ways and events to engage with the GVSU community and the military community,” Snyder said. “Essentially, we’re aiming to close the generational gaps between veterans and other Lakers on campus.”

Snyder explained that veterans tend to be older than each other, even in their own military community, because everyone serves their time differently. So not only does the Laker Vets society strive to connect from within, but they also strive for relationships with other members outside of their Chapter beyond any potential age gap.

The success that Wolfe and her colleagues have had with the program, she said, has been accelerated.

“I was hired at GVSU in the middle of the pandemic, and there was no veterinary center at that time,” Wolfe said. “We veterans had very little support before COVID, but then we received a generous donation from the Secchia family.”

With their input and the support of President Philomena Mantella, Wolfe shared how it was possible for them to develop the best program in the state.

“Before, all we had was a hallway in Kirkhof,” Wolfe said. “Now we have opened the door to many possibilities for building a thriving community and have since opened two entire rooms dedicated to our veterans; one located in Kirkhof at 0072 and the other at the downtown health campus.

Those interested in exploring the full range of benefits offered by the university to veteran students can visit GVSU website.

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