Since the grand opening of the Veterans Resource Center in 2017, St. Thomas has been making steady progress on President Julie Sullivan’s stated goal of making St. Thomas the most veteran-friendly campus in the Upper Midwest.
For the past four years, St. Thomas has earned a Military Friendly School designation. The university has ranked in the top 100 schools on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges for Veterans list for three years in a row, moving up to No. 82 from No. 93 last year.
The accolades keep coming. St. Thomas landed on U.S. Veterans Magazine’s “Top Veteran-Friendly Schools” list for the first time. In addition, the university recently debuted at No. 103 on the Military Times “Best for Vets” list, a comprehensive ranking of schools for military service members and veterans.
“St. Thomas clearly has made serving military and veteran students a priority,” Director of Veterans Services Norman Ferguson Jr. said. “We are trying to meet their needs so that they may be successful, not only in school, but beyond.”
More than just a place to meet
The Veterans Resource Center serves as the hub, a one-stop shop where veterans can find information about resources available to them, obtain academic and career services, and meet with other veterans.
Along with providing a safe space for past and current military personnel to study and relax before and after classes, the Veterans Resource Center is a space of support, providing a veteran academic adviser, a Psychological Services counselor and more.
“To have a constant group of people who are there to talk or answer questions has meant the world to me,” said Haley Sonneman ’22.
Sonneman told the St. Thomas Newsroom that she relied on Ferguson and veteran academic adviser Nicholas Doten during her deployment to Southeast Asia with the Air Force to ensure a smooth transition to St. Thomas.
Alumnus Joe LaCroix ’20 also relied on the Veterans Resource Center and its staff when he transferred to St. Thomas from a community college.
“I knew that I needed [a veterans association] wherever I went to help me stay focused and engaged. St. Thomas provided that to me almost instantaneously, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made,” LaCroix said.
The university continued its commitment to veteran students amid COVID-19 through the Veterans Resource Center and assisted financial programs.
Veterans Services offers an emergency loan to veteran students, facilitates connections to Veterans Affairs and provides veteran students with on-campus and off-campus job opportunities.
As a Yellow Ribbon School, St. Thomas also covers financial gaps for veteran students. For students who receive the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the maximum Chapter 33 benefit rate (100%), they won’t have to pay tuition and fees to attend the university. In addition, they receive a monthly housing stipend as well as a flat rate for books and supplies.
“Our commitment to veteran students is woven into the culture at St. Thomas,” Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Lange said. “The Veterans Resource Center has been instrumental for our veteran students to make connections with each other, our staff and our faculty.”
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To grow the university’s commitment to those who have served, Veterans Services has worked with campus partners to create policies and procedures that benefit veteran students.
For instance, if a student is called by the military to active duty, he or she is aided in a quick transition. Professors, the Registrar’s Office, the academic advising and financial aid teams all collaborate so the student has an easier time leaving school and that when the student returns, the experience is stress-free as well.
An updated absence policy and priority registration for current and past student military personnel also have made it easier for veteran students to find educational success at St. Thomas.
“These programs and policies are a way for the institution to thank veterans for their military service,” Ferguson explained.
Another way the university has proven its commitment to veterans is through the development of Green Zone Training. Green Zone Training was created for faculty, students and staff who are interested in learning more about the military-affiliated student experience at St. Thomas.
“Our goal is to train members of the St. Thomas community to know more about the issues and concerns faced by military-affiliated students and to identify individuals who are available to support these students,” Ferguson said.
Green Zone Training 2 is in development and will focus on teaching the St. Thomas community about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder so students and faculty can properly aid those who suffer from these afflictions.
In 2022, the Veterans Resource Center hopes to offer Tommie Boot Camp for transitioning and transferring veteran students.
“Many veterans drop out of college during their first year of school. Rusty academic skills, family responsibilities and a sense of alienation from younger classmates can make it hard for veterans to succeed on campus,” Ferguson said. “The goal of Tommie Boot Camp is to acclimate these veterans to civilian life as well as assist them in their pursuit of a degree.”
The boot camp is designed to create a sense of camaraderie for veteran students and is a way to further Veterans Services’ mission of creating a campus that allows military-affiliated students to thrive during their time at St. Thomas and beyond.
To learn more about the ways in which St. Thomas is honoring veteran students, visit the St. Thomas Veterans Resources website.