Adapting to college life can be a challenge, and for military personnel it can seem overwhelming. Military and Veterans Programs at New Mexico State University strives to ease that transition.
“Our goal is to serve our veterans the best way possible,” said Jacobo Varela, director of Military and Veterans Programs and an Army veteran himself. “They have served our country, now it is our turn to serve them. That’s our primary goal.”
The office, located in Garcia Annex, is often one of the first stops for students who are veterans or military members because Varela and his staff are responsible for certifying GI Bill and tuition assistance benefits.
“In the last year, we have made tremendous strides in developing a more robust Military and Veterans Programs office,” said Bernadette Montoya, NMSU’s vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. “We are focused on working toward providing more holistic programming for both our veterans and active duty military students. We have a director in place, and a highly dedicated staff to serve our students.”
Following a reorganization of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, the Veterans Program and All Things Military offices were merged, and renamed Military and Veterans Programs in the summer of 2012.
The office works with about 800 students per semester, which includes veterans to active duty military to dependents receiving benefits.
In spring 2013, the Military and Veterans Programs office began hosting a veteran-specific welcome and orientation session each semester. They also started sponsoring a Veterans Day picnic in 2012. The Military and Veterans Programs office offers veterans priority registration and special red, white and blue cords at commencement.
The Military and Veterans Programs office recently opened an office at Fort Bliss for outreach and recruitment. Varela said the office is piloting a peer/faculty mentorship program for student veterans along with researching and developing a career mentorship program.
Varela, who has a bachelor’s and master’s from NMSU, personally knows how tremendous a change going from the military to academia can be for a veteran.
“Luckily, I knew one person that was here, and she helped me to navigate the university, because I came back from Europe on a Monday, I ETS (expiration term of service) on aTuesday out of Fort Jackson, got back here on Wednesday and school started on Thursday,” he said. “It was Army, Army, Army and then suddenly school.”
With an average age of 31, veterans are not usually traditional students, and Varela said it is important for NMSU to offer them a strong support system.
“In order for them to be successful, it is essential that they have a strong community,” he said. “It takes the entire university to support these students. It requires a strong student association, and it requires a strong military office. Both can explore different avenues for advocacy. They have a lot more things to deal with than a traditional student, they may have been deployed multiple times away from their family, they may have just come back from a deployment and may be reintegrating with their family as well as society.”
When staff members across campus from admissions to financial aid to the registrar’s office have an understanding of veterans, it benefits the students. The Military and Veterans Programs office hopes to soon implement a new initiative called Kognito, an online-training simulation for faculty and staff that will teach them how to interact with military students.
“It is my hope that we would one day have a Military and Veteran’s Center to provide a ‘one-stop’ for services, programming offerings, student lounges and space to celebrate student milestones as well as space to memorialize those who have served or are serving our country,” Montoya said.
NMSU has a strong track record as a top military-friendly school. NMSU was listed in the top 15 percent of schools in the country that support military students in 2014 for the fifth consecutive year, which was published in the September issue of G.I. Jobs. NMSU also was selected as a top-military friendly school for the fourth straight year in the December edition of Military Advanced Education.
Information from NMSU