The Veterans Resource Center and Student Veterans of UNM came together to host their 4th annual Sound Off Conference on April 17th.
According to Alonzo Maestas, program manager at the Veterans Resource Center, the goal of the conference is to help student veterans succeed in college and the workforce. He said the conference is not just for veterans, but for everyone, adding that the center also wants to help students, faculty and families learn how to make the college experience better for the large veteran population on campus.
The conference included many different breakout sessions throughout the day. These included a Green Zone training and a discussion about utilizing the veteran community. Several outside companies came to present at the conference, including Eagle Talon, Krypteia and Boeing. The conference wrapped up with a town hall of students and faculty discussing the challenges veterans face at UNM.
Student veteran Mark Johnson said during the town hall that there is often a stigma associated with using the benefits available to veterans. As a result, so many people are hesitant to use them.
For example, Johnson said that many veterans assume getting the GI Bill is difficult, but that it is actually quite easy. However, he said one of the downfalls of the GI Bill is the limited time one can use it. He said this is his final year he can use the GI Bill, but not the final year of his academic program.
Another student veteran, Brooke Guidebeck, said you can get college credits for some of your time spent in the armed forces, but said it can sometimes be difficult to get those credits transferred, and often they only transfer as elective credit. She said despite this, receiving credit still helped her to stay on track and now she is able to graduate this semester.
Corinne Gonzales, who works in enrollment management at UNM said that they are working towards getting people who have “stopped out” of college to come back and finish. These can often include veterans who dropped out because they are no longer comfortable in college.
Among other things discussed at the conference, faculty tried to find ways they can reach out to student veterans to help them feel more comfortable at UNM and also help them get involved on campus.
Johnson said that although he only took three years off of school to serve in the army, he often feels like the “weird old guy” in his classes. Other students echoed this feeling, saying they often feel out of place or disenfranchised.
One of the reasons these student veterans feel out of place is because of the treatment they get from people on campus. Maestas said the administration at UNM has been supportive when it comes to working with the VRC and student veterans — the problems lie with the faculty and staff.
“You don’t have to like us, that’s okay, but don’t treat us like second class citizens,” Maestas said.
Student veterans can feel also out of place because they often don’t participate in different clubs and activities on campus.
“I haven’t been especially involved in student life during my time here,” Johnson said, “Maybe that was my mistake.”
Johnson said that encouraging veterans to be involved in student life is something they should work on. He said student veterans need more human connections and supportive people, which can come through going to events and getting involved.
Maestas said he encourages and wants to keep encouraging student veterans to reach out for help and support — whether that be through the VRC, friends and family, professors and advisors, or to some of the counseling services on campus. There are tons of resources available to help them and the VRC can help connect them to those resources, he said.
“The transition from military life to civilian life can be a difficult one, and they don’t have to do it alone,” Maestas said.
Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.