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Oct. 4, 2012 Volume 34, No. 7

Veterans Center helps former military personnel adjust to student life

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STARS AND STRIPES The University of Missouri honored the military veteran campus community and their families at the Patriot Day Barbecue Sept. 11 on the Francis Quadrangle. The American flag was raised high for the event. Nicholas Benner photo


“A degree means a life,” faculty veteran says

The number of military veterans attending the University of Missouri continues to tick upward. For the fall semester, 356 veterans using the Veteran Affair’s GI Bill for education are enrolled, said Carol Fleisher, director of the MU Veterans Center. That’s up by 29 percent from last spring. In addition, the MU Veterans Center serves dependents of veterans, taking the total number of students served by the Veterans Center to nearly 650.

Veterans are discovering an accommodating atmosphere at Mizzou, which was recently named a veteran-friendly university by the magazines G.I. Jobs: Your Guide to Post-Military Success and Military Times EDGE.

Much of the credit goes to the Veterans Center’s efforts to help student-veterans succeed. Opened in 2008, the center has assisted more than 800 Mizzou students using VA education benefits, Fleisher said. The center also serves MU employees who are veterans.

“MU cares about our veterans and is honored by their presence on our campus,” Fleisher said. “They bring tradition, focus, experience and a positive attitude that compliments MU’s campus environment. We are intent in making their academic careers successful.”

Alex Waigandt, an associate professor of education, school and counseling, is a Vietnam veteran decorated with three Purple Hearts. Using the GI Bill, he earned his bachelor’s of science and master’s at MU, and his doctorate at the University of Oregon.

“For veterans seeking help, I think MU does an excellent job,” Waigandt said.

The Veterans Center, located in Memorial Union, assists student-veterans with class registration and employment preparation; helps them maximize their benefits and apply for grants and scholarships; and directs them to additional resources on campus. Some of those resources are through health services, Student Financial Aid, the Office of Cashiers, Disability Services and the Student Success Center. The center defines “veteran” as “anyone who has or ever has worn the uniform,” Fleisher said.

The center also helps former soldiers feel comfortable in their new environment, where they typically are several years older than their classmates and have vastly different life experiences. 

Robert Canine, a health sciences junior, is adjusting to campus life after 11 years of Army service, including two tours in Iraq. Canine is a bilateral amputee.

“MU has been more than accommodating to me,” he said. “At first, the university was a little overwhelming, but the Veterans Center has made things easy. Whatever you need, they’ll either take care of it for you or point you in the right direction.”

Canine recently interned with Welcome Home, Inc., a local shelter for homeless veterans, and plans to intern at the state Capitol during the spring semester. He hopes to open a prosthetics business in Columbia after he graduates.

“The professors and the Veterans Center really care about their students and want them to succeed, and the campus is very accessible for people with disabilities,” Canine said.

John Picray traveled to exotic places such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore during his four-year U.S. Navy career. He’s now enrolled in MU’s anthropology program. The Veterans Center has guided him through his G.I. Bill benefits, and he’s met other student-veterans through the Missouri Student Veterans Association.

“I was living off my savings and had no support system until I walked into the Veterans Center,” Picray said. “I immediately felt at home. I was expecting apathy, so to find people who really go out of their way to help veterans is a testament to the character of the university.”

Student-veterans have also turned for support to faculty and staff outside the Veterans Center. Oftentimes veterans feel that only another veteran can understand what they are going through. 

Waigandt often gives advice to former soldiers weighed down by the university’s social and scholastic demands. “I always tell them, ‘Keep your eye on the brass ring,’ ” he said. 

“A degree means a life.”

— Kate McIntyre, with additional reporting by Mark Barna