LOGAN, Utah — Sometimes all it takes is a little understanding. For Utah State University students that are current service members, veterans, or military family members, USU’s Veterans Resource Office (VRO) seeks to create a community atmosphere to help students in their return to civilian life, promote understanding and communication, and to enrich and aid their academic experience.
Andy Allen, who joined USU as the director of the VRO in July 2022, has sought to help facilitate this community atmosphere at the office. Allen’s goal is to make the VRO feel like a place where veterans and their dependents can go to find community and feel at home. Allen, who is a retired service member himself, knows that perhaps above anything else, veterans miss the camaraderie of military service. He hopes that veterans at USU can find that at the VRO.
“We get a lot of veterans that find community here,” Allen said. “The VRO provides an environment where they can enjoy camaraderie, fulfillment and inclusion, whether they are studying or just socializing. Sometimes veterans tell us that they miss the camaraderie, unity, the teamwork of military service. We have tried to replicate that sense of community here in the VRO so that these amazing veterans and their dependents don’t feel like they are all alone on their academic journey. They can get to know other veterans and have shared discussions because they have shared experiences. It helps them feel connected despite being a diverse and unique population at USU.”
Over the last semester, the VRO has held a variety of activities to help foster this community feel. Whether it be Veterans Day recognitions, backyard barbecues, informal get togethers at restaurants, or just tuning the VRO television to show World Cup matches, USU students at the VRO have seen an increase in people coming in. This has led to the students making plans to get together on their own, outside of school.
“We have been slowly adding people to the group chat,” said student Mitchel Steen. “We get together for holidays and small get togethers, generally outside of school. We had a Friendsgiving for people who don’t have family nearby. We’ve also had activities like backpacking, shooting, hiking– generally trying to be outdoors.”
The students use the VRO as a meeting place, both as a place to do their schoolwork and a place to chat with friends. The atmosphere and the family vibe are two things students have mentioned about why they keep coming back.
“The people keep me coming back,” said student Joran Rosell. “It is easy to connect. Once we left military service, a lot of us thought we didn’t really connect with the world, the civilian world. We were very lonely for the most part, because we didn’t feel like we could share our actual feelings and thoughts, but here we can.”
Sharing experiences is something many students mentioned about the VRO, with one calling it “shared trauma” bringing people together. Military life is a unique experience that can be hard to relate to or even converse about to those who have not experienced it. Former service members have found they can talk about their experiences at the VRO without judgment and speak with someone who has maybe had similar experiences.
“Because of the common background, it’s easier to approach people and talk to them,” said student Garrett Mathews. “And everyone has been so welcoming here. It’s not a judgmental space, even if people don’t agree on everything. That really helps in fostering community.”
While transition from military life is challenging for many, students have credited the VRO for making the transition a little easier. There are resources available for students, and people who have gone down the exact same path.
“The VRO has definitely helped me move forward in my education,” Steen said. “This is kind of like a transition into civilian life. It makes it a softer, smoother transition instead of suddenly being on your own.”
For those students who are former or current service members or dependents, current VRO regulars invite them to come visit the VRO and see what it’s like for themselves.
“This is a great place, and it has been getting better and better every year,” Rosell said. “I would say stop on in, see if you like it. You don’t have to like it, but a lot of people come, and they stay. This is an awesome, friendly place.”
The VRO can help students in a variety of ways, including with GI Bill benefits, class certification requests, tutoring, counseling and much more. The aim of the VRO is to help students thrive and succeed, finding the support and services they need and that are available to them.
“Our job is to help these student service members, veterans, and family members understand the new environment they are in, navigate it, overcome any hurdles they face, and do so with the encouragement and help of a military friendly community,” Allen said. “We are here to help them as they transition. Not just in the start of their education, but all the way to graduation.”
The Veterans Resource Office is located in the Taggart Student Center room 225. For more information on the office, visit www.usu.edu/veterans.
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