Symposium examines difficulties student veterans face

Tiffany Hinman

Student veterans come to UT with different histories, experiences and knowledge than traditional students, according to officials and students who spoke at UT’s first symposium on the topic.

Every day, veterans reconcile their predisposed military mindsets with their identities as students, Audrey Sorrells, associate dean of students, said.

Sorrels said research conducted over a period of years by faculty, staff and counselors in the Department of Mental Health Services and Student Veteran Services led to the symposium.

“Each veteran entering college must learn how to become a student veteran,” Sorrells said. “They must learn to find ways in settings where most of their peers have never gone. We hope we can work to build opportunities and bridge the military and college cultures in ways that support their talents, skills and leadership.”

The symposium featured speakers who discussed veterans’ needs, finding student identities while being veterans and the contributions student veterans make to UT.

During the symposium, history junior Keith Huffaker, who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said there are many differences between the average student and student veterans. Huffaker incurred an injury while on duty, and now uses a wheel chair. He said besides his injury, personal responsibility has been the most notable difference he has seen between traditional students and student veterans.

“Military personnel hold accountability for their actions versus the average student,” Huffaker said. “I would not say the average student does not care, but military personnel are very goal oriented and have a sense of direction. They know they are here for a degree and that is the goal.”

Tania Nesser, a geography and international relations junior and student veteran who spoke at the symposium, said the University lacks the mentorship she was used to in the military. Nesser said she normally does not self-identify as a veteran in the classroom, but she offers advice from her experiences to the peers who know about her past.

“In the military when somebody outranks you and sees something in you, they seek you out and question your goals,” Nesser said. “Here with classes of 200 and 300 students, professors and TAs do not have time, and the students are not getting mentored like I got in the military. If I can mentor someone else, I feel like I am helping out.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 1.7 million veterans live in Texas, and 250,000 of these veterans are eligible for education assistance services. Only 40,000 veterans in Texas use these services, which include the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The bill provides up to 36 months of financial support for education to individuals who have served 90 days of active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. 

Printed on Monday, November 12, 2012 as: UT student veterans introduce challenges