Berkeley Today Stories
Veteran Stories Help Berkeley College Professors Foster a Deeper Understanding of Military Students
Christopher James Hendricks served eight years in the U.S. Air Force as a dental technician in the United States and abroad in Japan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. As a Berkeley College student, Mr. Hendricks is excelling in his classes, an accomplishment he attributes to the military, which Mr. Hendricks said helped him adhere to the discipline and rigors of a higher education environment. Mr. Hendricks plans to graduate in 2016 with a degree in Marketing Communications. Upon graduation, he would like to obtain a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.
Since the passage of the Post 9/11-GI Bill, which covers college expenses to military students, more than half a million veterans like Mr. Hendricks have set off in pursuit of a college education.
But veterans often face obstacles when returning to civilian life. Jane Hammerslough, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Coordinator at the Brooklyn Vet Center, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the challenges veterans face when returning to school after experiencing combat may include concentration issues and cultural issues stemming from the military’s distinct, hierarchical culture.
“Student veterans are more likely to succeed in school knowing that support – counseling, social groups and benefits – are available,” said Ms. Hammerslough. “Letting them know they are not alone is key.”
Berkeley College offers assistance to approximately 500 military students through its Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (OMVA). The College also has a virtual Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and six on-campus VRCs where military students can meet with OMVA staff, network with their peers or learn about Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.
The Berkeley College OMVA also educates professors to meet the needs of the military population and recently held a seminar titled “I Am Your Student Veteran: Dispelling the Myths Associated with Modern Military Students.”
Melissa Baralt, PhD, a Berkeley College professor in the School of Liberal Arts, attended the seminar to hear the stories of students and to share her experiences guiding veterans from introductory classes through capstone courses. She reinforced the need to understand and appreciate each veteran’s sacrifice.
“I like to reinforce the idea that everyone has a story. We should make a particular effort to learn the veteran story,” she said. “By making this connection, I have seen students evolve and use their military experience to shine in school.”
According to Mr. Hendricks, who participated as a panelist in the seminar, military students and veterans are “detailed people with detailed needs.” They do not feel as if they are behind by beginning their college career later in life. Instead, they come to the table with an advanced skill level and maturity from their time in the military. “If a faculty member understands what the veteran has been through, then a certain level of understanding and respect forms,” said Mr. Hendricks.
“The best way for professors to work with student veterans is to learn about military culture and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how that might impact performance,” said Ms. Hammerslough. “Also, do not make assumptions about their experience and be sensitive to possible political issues in classroom discussions.”
Lisa Mulligan, a Berkeley College Veterans Success Advisor, said staff members have been thoroughly trained in VA policy and the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs at Berkeley offers guidance on everything from tutoring programs to crisis centers. “Berkeley College is more than just a Yellow Ribbon School,” said Ms. Mulligan. “We are a community of professionals driven to propel our students toward success.”
Tips for Teaching Veterans
Melissa Baralt, PhD, Professor, Berkeley College School of Liberal Arts, says that student veterans add a special perspective to the classroom. Dr. Baralt shares these teaching tips for connecting with student veterans.
1. Learn from their stories. Let their experiences highlight topics in the classroom – such as using military camaraderie to exemplify the importance of teamwork.
2. Realize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and can affect anyone. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms and have resources on hand for those who need them.
3. Get creative. Veterans may learn differently. Apply techniques to engage them, such as technology in the classroom.
4. Be accessible. Many veterans face challenges when re-entering civilian life. Be available to those who may need encouragement or direction.
5. Appreciate their sacrifice. With this recognition, a level of understanding and respect can be formed.