Student veterans, campus leaders from UNC system schools, North Carolina community college administrators and North Carolina legislators gathered Monday for the UNC Veterans Summit to discuss the various ways state campuses can serve student veterans.
The summit included a series of panels on various topics, including student veterans; campus leadership in supporting military-affiliated students; partnerships between the UNC system and the state legislature; the connections between the UNC system and the N.C. Community College System; and transitioning veterans into the workforce.
Haywood Cochrane Jr., chairperson of the UNC Board of Trustees, said during the campus leaders panel that support from the North Carolina legislature is crucial in implementing good policy for student veterans.
“If you went to a meeting of a Carolina veteran’s organization three years ago, you sat outside the room on a folding chair and blocked traffic in the Student Union,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a resource center that is ample, it’s utilized and it’s important.”
Cochrane said the dilemma student veterans were facing was not one of space, it was a lack of commitment — a dedicated center for veterans at UNC.
“You know how we got it? Great help from the legislature,” he said.
Cochrane said an organized campaign to raise awareness for student veterans will help them overcome some psychological roadblocks on campus.
“There is a feeling that in some corners of the campus that military and veterans aren’t appreciated, and I do think we’re overcoming that,” he said. “One thing that we’ve got as an action item is to get the word out.”
J.W. Kelley, associate vice president of student services for the N.C. Community College System, said services to veterans look very different across the system because of the varying service area and size of each institution.
The N.C. State Board of Community Colleges implemented a uniform policy in September across the Community College System to provide excused absences for students in the National Guard and military reserves.
“Another example is we are just finishing up the first step in the work of consistently awarding across all 58 campuses military credit — credit based on military training, military service — under the umbrella of awarding credit where credit is due,” Kelley said.
Amber Mathwig, student veterans assistance coordinator at UNC, said her job involves supporting veterans, showing them how to navigate the University and assisting in their transition from the military. This includes emailing helpful advice to incoming veterans over the summer, hosting events, connecting veterans with each other and several other services.
“I spend a lot of time just talking to students about what’s going on in their day and in their life, whether that’s about transition or military stuff or their future,” she said.
Mathwig said it is important to get together and share practices with other campuses through events like the UNC Veterans Summit.
“The act of sharing information is always really important in our community,” she said.
UNC system President Margaret Spellings said in her closing remarks at the summit that the lessons learned from the student veteran and military-affiliated population can be applied broadly to many different types of students.
“This is a chance for us to improve on how we support our nontraditional students in every sense of the word."