By Rick Williams
Associate Director of Veterans Affairs, Youngstown State University
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As I begin my 10th year as the main point of contact for all military-connected students at Youngstown State University, a phrase comes to mind that I heard often during my own 25-year Army career: “The only constant in life is change.”
When I first started my veteran-related duties in 2013, my office was on the third floor of Tod Hall. I jokingly described it as a “broom closet at the end of the hall.” But it was slightly larger than that. I had two small offices, a waiting area with two computer stations for students and a coffee machine. Back then, my primary responsibilities were to plan a couple of veteran-related events per school year, verify veteran status of students and process GI Bill applications for nearly 400 student-veterans.
What a difference 10 years can make. A year after accepting this position, the Veterans Resource Center was constructed on campus, which was funded by the generous donations of “military-loving” families in the community. At the time, YSU was the only university in Ohio with a center like ours. Thus began an effort to become the most veteran-friendly campus in the state.
The Office of Veterans Affairs at YSU now has two full-time employees, a graduate assistant, and seven VA work-study students. We pride ourselves in giving the best and most thorough service to our men and women who have, and still do, wear the uniform – and to their family members using veteran benefits. We like to say we guide them from admission to graduation and beyond.
Our mission statement says it best:
“The Veterans Resource Center enhances the academic, professional, and individual success of veterans, service members and their families. We are steadfastly committed to supporting our military community in all areas of higher education: military education benefits, academic success, graduation, career and professional development, and overall well-being.”
While guiding prospective student-veterans during the admissions process, we evaluate their personal situations to determine qualification status for any of the VA education programs, military tuition assistance programs and any other federal and state funding sources.
Our office collaboratively analyzes all military training to determine applicability to college credit toward degree completion. Depending on several factors, YSU awards a minimum of six credit hours for basic training and a varying number of credits for technical and professional training.
Once admitted and enrolled, we guide the student as he progresses toward graduation. Some veterans have been away from academics for many years. So we have agreements with the Math Assistance Center and the Writing Center on campus to provide dedicated tutors to help them reacquire these important skills. We also advocate for student-veterans should conflicts arise between their coursework and service-related situations.
For example, if a student is called to duty during the semester, we work with the registrar and bursar to pause his academic pursuits without negatively impacting his financial aid or incurring any debts.
The Office of Veterans Affairs also takes pride in helping the student veterans find work after they graduate. We counsel them on résumé writing and interview skills, and provide information about job fairs for veterans. A search engine on our website guides them to military-friendly employers.
Today, YSU serves nearly 240 student veterans and another 70 dependents that use veteran benefits. While veteran enrollment has decreased over the last 10 years, our services to student veterans has greatly increased. This is one of many reasons why YSU was honored in May as one of the first Collegiate Purple Star Institutions in Ohio.
Pictured at top: Carl A. Nunziato Veterans Resources Center at YSU