Veterans Day 2010
In the current academic year, the university established an expanded Yellow Ribbon program for enrolled student veterans. Due to this and several additional initiatives, the Ann Arbor campus, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and UM-Flint recently were designated “Military Friendly Schools.”
“The Military Friendly Schools list is the gold standard in letting veterans know which schools will offer them the greatest opportunity, flexibility and overall experiences,” says 2010 alumnus and U.S. Air Force veteran Derek Blumke, who co-founded the national Student Veterans of America (SVA) while at U-M.
In 2009 U-M joined the Yellow Ribbon program, which collaborates with the U.S. Veterans Administration to cover tuition expenses over and above basic provisions of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. While the Yellow Ribbon program augments tuition benefits, some veterans still hit their maximum in the course of two semesters.
This year, the Ann Arbor campus expanded its participation in the Yellow Ribbon program, making it possible for veterans to go year-round. “This is a critical resource for students with personal, academic, or family obligations that compel them to complete their studies quickly,” says Phil Larson, who coordinates the U-M Student Veterans Assistance Program.
Of 144 Ann Arbor campus student veterans and 58 dependents tapping GI Bill benefits in Fall 2010, 51 participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, and two are taking advantage of the expanded benefit.
“Any university can say they are ‘veteran friendly,’ but U-M really shows it by endorsing the Yellow Ribbon program,” says electrical engineering sophomore Jorge “Chris” Acosta, a five-year veteran (2003–2008; Iraq, South Korea, Okinawa and San Diego) of the U.S. Marine Corps whose journey to the Ann Arbor campus also included a stint at Washtenaw Community College.
Acosta, who wants to focus his studies on new and renewable energy sources, is working on a next-generation wind resonator in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, enjoys fencing with the Society for Creative Anachronism, and tutoring high school students with U-M student group, SHPE. “The GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon benefits give me the time to be a student,” Acosta says. “I wouldn’t be able to do all these things, to make these contributions, without my veterans benefits and the university’s support.”
Neal Bajema, second-year law student and U.S. Navy veteran (2000-06; Iraq, Guam, Spain and throughout Southeast Asia), contributes in other ways, most recently as a player in the Oct. 29 Army-Navy wheelchair basketball game. Founder of the 50-member “Running Club at Michigan Law,” Bajema says, “I could not have taken on the debt required for a law degree without the Yellow Ribbon benefits.”
UM-Flint relies on input from returning veterans to anticipate and meet the needs of their 184 student veterans with resources that include a Veterans Support Program the Student Veterans Resource Center, and tailored academic, support and recruitment services.
“When we expressed a need to the university administration for an even more proactive approach after the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the university formed a veteran students support group consisting of the highest administrative, faculty and staff leadership,” says former U.S. Army medic and current pre-med student Cameron Waites.
“We have much left to do. I challenge the university not to rest on their laurels, but to continue working hard to improve the experience of today’s student veterans at the U-M-Flint.”
Beyond campus, the SVA/Flint chapter is joining with the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and Habitat for Humanity to completely renovate a house that ultimately will be presented to a returning veteran.
In Fall 2007, the first day of classes at UM-Dearborn left Suzette McGraw-Price feeling like she had been whisked back to junior high school, complete with butterflies in her stomach. At age 37, McGraw-Price had spent 12 years in the U.S. Army.
“Having to walk through the door was the hardest part,” says the psychology/women’s and gender studies senior.
Quickly becoming involved in campus groups, McGraw-Price learned about opportunities to raise awareness about student veterans on campus. “Up until that point, I never identified as a veteran on campus,” she says.
In November 2009 UM-Dearborn staff approached her about working with the Veterans Success Team. Soon thereafter, McGraw-Price, now SVA’s state director, founded Dearborn’s SVA chapter, which, one year later, has 150 members.
Daniella Borum, program adviser, University Unions Arts & Programs, on the importance of her job: “Most of the programs on campus are student-driven and it is my responsibility to ensure students have access to the resources they need to have successful events.”
“Omaha Beach to the River Elbe: A Son Retraces His Father’s WWII Footsteps 66 Years Later,” Joe DeMatio, 7-8:30 p.m. Nov. 16, Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.