Veterans support center coming to campus

Spinnaker

UNF officials are launching a program designed to assist military veterans making the transition from combat to the classroom.

The university’s “Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Leaders” project will bring a Military and Veteran Resource Center to campus in an effort to aid current and former military personnel at UNF.

The Florida Board of Governors of the state university system asked UNF to develop a model to address the change from service member to student, said Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president for Student and International Affairs.

The center will be funded by a $218,000 grant from The Community Foundation in Jacksonville, which will pay for the center’s operating costs for the next two years, Gonzalez said.

After Gonzalez began work assembling the task force to assist veterans, the board approached him to devise a program that could be implemented statewide.

Establishing the Military and Veterans Resource Center is the primary component of the project, said Cynthia Alderson, director of Military and Veterans Programs and Services.

The center will offer various support services including counseling, admissions, enrollment and financial aid assistance, all other future programs will be devised by student veterans, Alderson said.

After the UNF task force studied the issue, it published its findings in a report to the board.

The task force wanted an office that would be on campus for the success of a veteran during the transition from military life to university life, Gonzalez said.

Around 240,000 Floridians have been deployed overseas since Sept. 11, Gonzalez said.

These service members became eligible for education benefits after Congress passed the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill last year.

The catalyst for creating a veterans program came from the sharp increase in veteran enrollment since the adoption of the measure, Gonzalez said.

Florida’s public universities experienced a 20 to 49 percent increase in students availing themselves of Veterans Administration benefits and enrolling in school since the first semester the new G.I. Bill was in effect, according to UNF’s report to the board.

Gonzalez, a veteran himself, used the G.I. Bill to help pay for his college expenses during the Vietnam era.

“We really didn’t have a support system in place,” Gonzalez said. “At least the universities I attended, you were pretty much on your own.”

To combat this isolation, the project will establish the resource center, Alderson said.

The five-office space facility, which is to include administrative offices, a private counseling area, a lounge and an education center, will be located in Building 9.

The resource center is set to open its doors sometime this semester, most likely after spring break, depending on the speed of renovations in Building 2, where several current occupants of Building 9 will relocate, Alderson said.

In the meantime, the center can be found at its temporary location on the third floor of Building 58W, room 3605, Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m.

The center is recruiting student volunteers and leaders to shape the goals and vision of the center and become “plank owners” of the project.

“We want them [veterans] to own it and create it,” Alderson said.

Alderson said initiatives like the resource center make UNF a welcoming place for veterans.

“We are doing the right things that absolutely make us attractive [to military students],” Alderson said.

Lt. Col. Scott Jones, director of the UNF ROTC, concurs with this assessment.

“I have been on a number of university and college campuses with the ROTC, and this is by far one of the best environments I’ve ever been affiliated with.”