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Today@Sam Article

SHSU's VRC Makes Veteran Success Their Mission

Nov. 2, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story by: Kim Morgan

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Senior forensic science major Elizabeth Rahman, VRC staff member Roberta Ardoin, and sophomore Shelby Smith are among the very different faces of SHSU's veteran population. Rahman is a Navy vet, Shelby Smith is a veteran "dependent" who (like 400 others at SHSU) utilizes the Hazlewood Legacy program to pay for her education, and Ardoin is one of only four VetSuccess counselors in Texas. —Photo by Brian Blalock


IT'S A WORLD OF BOOKS INSTEAD OF BOMBS, homework instead of howitzers, lecturers instead of lieutenants, and a grassy campus instead of a sandy desert. It's life as a student; not a soldier.

Certainly academia is a different kind of duty than war, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easier.

"It was an incredibly hard transition," said Justin Staats, 30, who served three tours with the army in Iraq before enrolling at Sam Houston State University.

Staats had the added challenge of memory loss, the result of a traumatic brain injury while overseas. His first two semesters at SHSU were difficult, but his last two semesters were perfect—Staats even made the Dean's List before graduating in August 2012 with a degree in kinesiology.

"I was able to overcome my struggles because they were really good about helping me," Staats said. "They definitely took care of me."

"They" is the Veterans Resource Center, a home base for veterans seeking education, needing assistance with the logistical challenges of veterans affairs benefits and understanding campus services available to help them succeed.

Jacob Bullion, a recruiting coordinator in the center, said SHSU is currently home to approximately 800 veterans and 400 veteran dependents.

"We take better care of our veterans than anybody else, because everybody who works in our office is a veteran," said Bullion, a former marine who is currently a soldier with the Texas Army National Guard. "We know what it's like for them. We've been there."

Services include a Counseling Center that is staffed by counselors and psychologists who are well versed in all aspects of mental health, including the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. And the regularly-scheduled "Veterans Leadership Seminars" provide updated information on everything from legal assistance to community contacts.

Saluting our Soldiers...

Sgt. Sammy leads in supporting our troops during the third annual "Carry the Load" Ruck March, held in September. He and 350 others from SHSU, Huntsville, and the surrounding areas walked eight miles as part of a fundraiser for local heroes. —Submitted photos
Thanks to all of the participants, including many SHSU students, the Ruck March raised $4,000 this year. The event is held annually in the fall.
Sammy, with VRC recruiting coordinator Jacob Bullion, who, like all of SHSU's VRC staff members, is a veteran himself.

Since officially opening in 2009, the Veterans Resource Center continues to expand its services, most recently with the addition of a VA "VetSuccess" counselor.

Roberta Ardoin is one of 37 VetSuccess counselors across the country, and one of only four in Texas. As an employee of the VA who is on duty at SHSU, Ardoin's role is vast.

She helps students manage education benefits, explore vocations, choose healthcare benefits, job placement assistance, career advancement, and coordinating with SHSU faculty and staff to provide specific services necessary for student success.

"It's important for veterans and their dependents to understand what the VA is and the services we provide," Ardoin said. "We just want to be available to them in whatever they need."

Ardoin said SHSU already has a "great demonstrative history" of working with veterans, so she felt at home the moment she walked through the doors.

Navy veteran Elizabeth Rahman, 23, felt the same way when she enrolled at SHSU in January 2009 after one and a half years active duty in Virginia.

"I wanted to come to a place that was veteran friendly, that provided different things to do, that encourages camaraderie with other veterans," Rahman said. "It's definitely lived up to my expectations."

So much so that Rahman intends to stick around for a master's degree in forensic science after she completes her biology degree.

SHSU currently has more than 130 veterans enrolled in master’s degree programs and a handful in doctoral programs. Bullion said the College of Business Administration and the College of Education are popular choices for veterans, but the “top dog” is the College of Criminal Justice. In fact, for active duty students, the Master of Science in criminal justice leadership and management for military police program is on the United States Military Preferred Programs list.

The majority of veteran students are in school full-time and their average age is closing in on 26. The average GPA between graduates and undergrads is 3.23. Furthermore, there are slightly more male veterans on campus than females, with the majority being white/Caucasian, followed by black/African-American and Hispanic.

No matter the age, ethnicity or gender, Bullion said veterans are outstanding students.

"Veterans have a skillset that's hard to find anywhere else," Bullion said. "They bring discipline, maturity and strong work ethic. They apply that to education, the workforce and the community."

At the third annual SHSU "Carry Their Load" ruck march at Huntsville State Park in September, 350 participants, including 50 veterans, hit the road for an eight-mile adventure. The hike raises awareness of the physical, mental and emotional load that military, veterans and civil service workers carry every day. The Veterans Resource Center raised an estimated $4,000, all of which was donated to the Warrior and Family Support Center in Fort Sam Houston, the Walker County Sheriff's Department and the Huntsville Volunteer Fire Department.

Events like this not only benefit the community, but also provide opportunities for veteran students of all military branches to come together.

The Veterans Resource Center encourages this type of interaction in a variety of ways, including active membership in the Collegiate Veterans Association, an organization that advocates and empowers student veterans.

SHSU honors veterans in many ways, as demonstrated by the "military friendly" status recently awarded by G.I. Jobs magazine. The community honors veterans in many ways as well, as demonstrated by the Nov. 11, 2009, opening of the HEARTS Veterans Museum.

Bottom line, Huntsville is soldier friendly.

"You can't really go anywhere in this town or on this campus without somebody walking up, shaking your hand and saying 'thank you' for your service,’" Bullion said. "It's not necessary, but we appreciate it. There's a lot of pride and respect here."



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