A growing population of student-veterans is bringing a unique set of experiences to North Central classrooms. They’ve endured military basic training, the heat of Iraq, parachute jumps, rigorous duties and reentry to civilian life. The enrollment of military veterans has reached 25 and dozens more are expected in years to come.
“While I was at the College of DuPage, the only schools I thought about for transferring were the public universities,” says Mike Dooley ’12, a journalism major and a veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and some 20 months of deployment in Iraq. “When I found out I could attend a private school, I wanted to go here.”
Dooley and others are able to access tuition benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Yellow Ribbon program. The VA pays a maximum of $17,500 annually toward tuition after scholarships and financial aid are applied. For veterans eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program, tuition and fees are split 50/50 by the VA and North Central after the cap is met, reflecting the College’s commitment to the education of veterans.
This summer, North Central secured a grant from the Aurora Foundation of Fairfax, VA, to cover the cost of student-veteran peer leaders to build camaraderie among veterans and understand their needs. It’s the first step toward implementing a student veteran services program. While G.I. Jobs magazine has already named North Central a Military Friendly School for 2012, support programs are needed for veterans and their families, says Laurie Hamen, vice president for enrollment management, athletics and student affairs. “Our veterans have good ideas about how to make this campus more veteran-friendly,” she says.
In November 2010, a Veterans Day gathering at the home of President Harold Wilde yielded several suggestions for improving paperwork and social opportunities. The first student-veterans’ event sponsored by the College included Trustee Steven Rubin, a veteran of several tours of duty in the Middle East as a U.S. Marine.
Among those sharing ideas was U.S. Marine veteran James Davidson ’12, who transferred from Moraine Valley Community College to pursue a major in sociology: criminal justice. But a chemistry class with Jeff Jankowski, associate professor of chemistry, inspired Davidson to change his major with the goal of earning a doctorate and pursuing a career in the field. “This summer, I rode my Harley to the Bonneville Salt Flats, near Salt Lake City, to collect about 50 salt samples for a research project I developed,” he explains. “Dr. Jankowski has been a profound influence from day one. I’m just another example of how the right college can provide a truly life-changing experience.”
Tom Andre ’11 spent five years in the U.S. Marines and served on a helicopter aircraft carrier and was in the Middle East during the attack on the USS Cole. “When I graduated from high school I didn’t have the drive to attend college,” he says. “When you attend school later in life, you have high expectations. Veterans are driven to reach their goals.” Andre majored in international business and Japanese at North Central and is interviewing for jobs.
Dooley is considering reenlisting in the U.S. Army as an officer after graduation or pursuing a career with a federal agency like the U.S. State Department or Federal Bureau of Investigation. All three veterans have been active on campus: Dooley as a writer for The Chronicle; Davidson in string ensemble, chemistry club and fundraising for Japan; and Andre in Japanese Club and study abroad.
“Our veterans are smart, motivated and driven to be successful people,” says Hamen. “They exhibit all the characteristics of great North Central students.”