July 13, 2009
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
When Marine Corps veteran Wade Dixon decided to come to Sam Houston State University in 2007 after almost five years in the military, including two tours in Iraq, he didn’t know where to begin. So he drove from his hometown of Shepherd and explored campus, asking students at an ROTC table for direction.
“I felt like I was in England, talking to an Englishman,” Dixon said. “We were speaking more or less the same language, but we weren’t making any sense to each other.”
As he began at SHSU the following spring as a theatre major, he found the confusion didn’t end with how to get into school. From “the smallest, most insignificant thing,” computers, to making friends or just acclimating to the age and mentality differences of his peers, Dixon said adapting to college life from the military sector raised a number of issues for him.
“My first semester here was just all sorts of frustrating, with all the little hoops you have to jump through on the administrative side in just trying to go to school, but also interacting with my fellow classmates in all of the 100-level classes,” he said.
Making the transition back to “civilian life” as easy as possible for veterans like Dixon and creating a more “military friendly” environment on campus are two goals the Enrollment Management division hopes to accomplish with the establishment of a new Veterans Resource Center.
Scheduled to “officially” open with an open house on Sept. 10, the center will provide a “one-stop shop” for veterans returning to college after service and act as a liaison between outside and university resources, according to Kathy Hudson, SHSU’s Veteran Resource Center coordinator.
Housed on the first floor of the Estill Building, the center will facilitate tutoring and counseling services, offer a veteran work study program and a veteran lounge and will work with the Texas Workforce Commission to help veterans find jobs, in addition to continuing to distribute educational benefits through the five different GI bills.
In addition, the first veterans’ orientation will be held on Aug. 6. It will include presentations from the VA hospital and the Student Veterans of America representative, as well as information from SHSU on such things as advising and registration.
“We’ll hopefully work as a social center for the veterans so they can get together,” Hudson said. “We’ll have a bulletin board so they can leave messages for each other, keep them up to date, we’ll subscribe to a lot of publications that will be there for the veterans to read and do research with, hopefully have some type of veterans education seminars, just different things throughout the year.
“The idea is still so new, and we’re looking at what other schools are doing and just coming up with new things all the time,” she said.
Currently SHSU has more than 400 students drawing veteran benefits, up from around 275 four or five years ago, Hudson said.
With the combination of President Barack Obama’s announcement to plan to withdraw all 142,000 troops from Iraq by December 2011 and the introduction of a new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which will become effect August 1, Hudson said they are anticipating an influx of veterans going back to school within the next few years, adding to the importance of a center such as the VRC.
“This is a unique group of people who come in as older students, and they don’t always fit in with the younger students,” Hudson said. “They find it frustrating in class with different situations between younger students and having served in combat.”
They are also researching the creation of a veteran learning community that would allow vets to take certain core classes together, like freshman English or math, with the hope that having them share a classroom setting would make them more comfortable and make their transition to college life easier, Hudson said.
“When I came here, I really did feel alone,” Dixon said. “It probably took a good half semester to start making friends other than just a handful, and it probably took me until last fall to start branching out and meeting people who didn’t have that common thread of being in the military.
“It took some acclimatization, for lack of a better term, to get used to this world,” he said. “The situations that at one time made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, like sitting with my back to the door, things that normal people may find weird, it took me a while to ease out of those habits. I was constantly looking around behind me.”
Dixon, who is cofounder and president of the SHSU Collegiate Veterans Association and helped serve as the “veteran voice” during the planning phases of the VRC, said he thinks the center is “a beautiful thing.
“My hope and dream is that it actually is the one-stop shop, getting the right amount of people, finding the funding for it, and opening that door to be the crown jewel of schools in the Texas State (University) System,” he said.
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