Maj. Sherri Tombarge
Assistant Director
News and Editorial Services
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Lexington, VA 24450

Conference to Focus on Serving Student Veterans

LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 1, 2011 – “The student veterans are coming: Are you ready?” This question will be addressed in a one-day conference, “We Are Virginia Veterans on Campus,” for college administrators and the increasing number of student veterans they serve. The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Virginia Military Institute’s Center for Leadership and Ethics, located in Marshall Hall on the VMI post. Registration will begin at 8.

Sponsored by the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, the conference will make deans of students, college counselors, advisers, registrars, and medical staff, and administrators in financial aid, admissions, and disability services more aware of the needs of student veterans. It will also offer training on how to meet those needs.

“The new Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are the most generous educational support for veterans since the original GI Bill after World War II,” said Catherine Wilson, executive director of the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program. “Veteran enrollments in our colleges and universities, including community colleges, are expected to rise markedly.”

It can be difficult for these student veterans to navigate through a complex and unfamiliar bureaucracy to receive the benefits, noted Capt. Susan Rabern, director of VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics.

“These student veterans made a sacrifice for their country,” said Rabern, who recalled the dogged persistence required of her when she used her GI Bill benefits to earn her doctorate. “They’re more mature than the typical college student. These are people who have served and who deserve to be served in return.”

“If you’re not determined and fully cognizant, you’re not going to get through,” added Maj. Amy Dehart, the Center’s acting deputy director. “This conference is about removing the barriers.”

The keynote address, “Honoring Our Veterans,” will be given by retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Christopher Cortez, general manager for strategic operations at Microsoft Public Sector, Americas and Asia. Cortez leads Microsoft’s Military 2 Microsoft Program, also called “We Still Serve.” The program assists transitioning veterans with managing the challenges of navigating the private sector job market.

The morning sessions will include a student veteran panel discussion, “From the Front Lines to the Classroom.” Four veterans who returned from active duty to pursue undergraduate or graduate studies will speak about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the challenges of becoming students in an environment geared toward those transitioning from high school rather than from combat.

Three afternoon presentations will offer practical information on making colleges and universities veteran-friendly, helping veteran students make the most of the higher education experience, and ensuring their health and resilience.

Closing remarks will be given by Paul Galanti, commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services and member of VMI’s Board of Visitors.

“After World War II, the nation opened its arms to veterans, but I’m not so sure the current system of colleges and universities has had to opportunity to see it that same way,” said Rabern.

“Reducing the barriers for student veterans is good for the veterans,” added DeHart. “It’s good for the colleges, who need paying students, and it’s good for the nation.”

The registration fee is $35 for non-students and $15 for students. To pre-register or for more information about the conference, visit WeAreVirginiaVeterans.org. Walk-in registration on the day of the conference will also be accepted.

Additional information is also available at http://www.dvs.virginia.gov/news_releases.shtml.

 

–VMI–