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Veterans Finding One-Stop Shopping at NAU

Success comes in many forms, including the newly remodeled, 1,600-square-foot Veteran Success Center (VSC) located in the University Union Fieldhouse at Northern Arizona University.

For a veteran student, success can mean finding a safe space on campus to interact with other military-affiliated students and relax, watch TV and play ping-pong.

It can also mean connecting with resources to help in academic and professional careers, or learning about educational benefits earned through military service.

The VSC is at the heart of efforts to provide a support network and to assist all NAU military-connected students anywhere in the world.

“We take a holistic approach to working with those who have served our country,” said Laurie Jordon, assistant director of Veteran and Transfer Services. “We support them from the time they transition out of the military to higher education, to the time they are ready to seek professional civilian employment and each step in between.”

First opening its doors in 2010, the center was completely remodeled in 2014 to provide three times more space than the previous center, with the addition of a kitchen, recreation area and multi-purpose computer lab.

“The department has recently gone under extensive restructuring designed to better serve our military-connected students,” said Pete Yanka, director of Veteran and Transfer Services. “We have incorporated Educational Benefits, DOD Tuition Assistance and a wide range of services under one umbrella in order to better assist our students in reaching their educational goals. This includes online, on campus and our community campuses throughout the state. It is an exciting time of growth and innovation inspired by the university leadership.”

More than 1,000 military-connected students, both online and on campuses throughout Arizona, are currently able to benefit from the efforts of the VSC and other NAU departments.

Kelsey Lacy, a student in the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences (CEFNS) and employee at the VSC, shared her insight. “When I was accepted to NAU, I was still at my duty station in North Carolina. I was able to contact the Veteran Success Center and get everything in order before I even moved to Flagstaff. Starting school was less stressful because of the resources available at the center. I’m now in my second year of my biology progression plan and a student employee at the VSC. Being able to help people with the same things I was confused about is so rewarding.”

Staff at the center is available to provide both direct aid and referrals to student veterans across campus, putting them in touch with a number of campus and community resources that focus on their successful transition, academic success and retention and career development.

There is a wide range of educational benefits available to veterans depending on service time and designation.

“We have many students both veterans and dependents that utilize the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” Jordon explained. “This is one of the most robust benefits available to those who qualify.”

Benefits through the bill can cover up to 100 percent of the in-state tuition costs, as well as provide a monthly housing stipend, book allowance and more. “We also have a number of scholarships in place that are available for military-connected students,” she said.

NAU also offers a discounted rate of $250 per credit that matched the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance benefit for eligible active-duty military members.

“The Vet Success Center has helped me transition by letting me connect with other vets who are in the same position as me or who have more college experience than me,” shared Dalton Littrell, a forestry major and veteran student. “It has also helped me by giving me an easy starting point for finding resources.”

The VSC staff includes many students who have served in the military themselves.

They say the veterans-serving-veterans aspect of the center is vital to its success.

Currently, 15 students under the Veterans Administration work-study program are using their military benefits by assisting other student veterans at the VSC.

Peers are also helping new incoming veterans/students through the Peer Mentor program, which is housed at NAU within the Transfer and Commuter Connections Center.

Within this peer program, a Veteran Targeted Peer Mentor program has been established.  NAU plans to expand the program in the fall with a team approach to supporting veterans.

“We are very excited for this enhanced version of our Veteran Mentoring Program,” Jordon shared. “Our commitment is to provide quality services for all of our military-connected students, whether online or face-to-face.”

These “Veteran Team Lead Mentors” will be working with five to six teams of veteran students, which includes online veteran students.

“Laurie and the staff at the Veteran Success Center have done an incredible job of building on the VSC’s solid foundation,” Yanka said. “With the commitment of the staff, we will be able to further enhance our services to our students. The next 12 months will be a time of focus on our online services, development of partnerships throughout the state, and enhancements to our in-person services within the center. We are truly grateful to be able to serve our students on a daily basis and look forward to continually improving our services.” FBN

By Betsey Bruner, FBN

Courtesy photo



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