Lisa A Keenan, Advising Military Students and Dependents Interest Group Chair
Advisors on campuses across the U.S. have noted increased numbers of military students enrolled at their institutions. Bash (2003) affirmed that higher education must respond to the needs of these students with programs that aid smooth transitions if these students' collegiate experiences are to be meaningful. Whether veterans, reservists, or active duty service members, these students bring a commitment to learn and achieve that is equivalent to the commitment they made to voluntarily serve our country. They are eager and motivated to use their earned benefits to pursue an education that will hopefully lead to fulfilling the dreams they had while serving in hostile lands. Yet, their patience can be worn thin if they find that their chosen college or university is more bureaucracy driven than even the military. Military students, like all students, want to attend an institution where they feel welcomed and understood.
The assistance of one advisor helped a U.S. Air Force reservist overcome institutional bureaucracy and continue her enrollment in school. Jane (a pseudonym) served in the U.S. Air Force for five years and became a reservist in 2006. She was enrolled at the satellite campus of a state university, majoring in elementary education. Jane drafted her educational plan with as much attention to detail as was demanded of her while she served her country. She and her advisor developed an educational plan that would allow her to graduate while continuing to serve in the reserves. The summer before her graduation Jane received word that her unit would be activated for three weeks to the Middle East; this deployment would come that fall at the same time she would start the final five courses needed for her spring internship and graduation. Jane contacted her advisor for assistance; the advisor recommended that she contact each course instructor. Since Jane received such short notice of her deployment, her window of time to gain approval from all five instructors and acquire books before she deployed was very narrow. Her situation was complicated further by strict requirements of the financial assistance she was receiving from the Montgomery GI Bill. She had a rigid timeline to complete her degree; delaying a semester meant that she would lose all financial assistance.
With the help of her advisor, Jane contacted every instructor. This was not an easy task during the summer months. Yet, with her advisor's assistance she was able to meet with each instructor - each of whom gave her a syllabus or created one for her before she departed the country. They all agreed to work with her to resolve this complex academic dilemma. This allowed her to acquire her textbooks and make further plans with students in the class who could help her continue her education while serving our country. It is an understatement to say that Jane was relieved and grateful to be a part of a university where her unique military situation was understood.
Jane is one example of the varied circumstances facing students in the military. This university is just one of the many 'military friendly' institutions where personnel do what they can to make a difference in these students' academic and personal lives. Institutions seeking to be military friendly will do well to follow suggestions made in the Principles of Good Practice for Institutions Providing Voluntary Education Programs on Military Installations (MIVER, 2003).
Advising is a one part of a student's experience in the academy; good advising can have a significant impact on a student's successful college experience (Light, 2001). Reservists and active duty service members can be called upon at a moment's notice, as was the case with Jane. These abrupt interruptions can wreak havoc with students' academic goals and impact their GI Bill contributions to family incomes. When advisors help students such as Jane, they help relieve the students' stress in serving; the service members' main priority then can be serving our country and not worrying about their ability to continue their education.
Advisors who work with military students should remember that these students are eager and motivated to use the benefits they earned to start new academic endeavors. They are not seeking special treatment; they only hope that that their instructors and advisors will be mindful of their many responsibilities which are unparalleled when compared to those faced by more traditional students (Bash, 2003). Communication, collaboration, and commitment will show students that their education success matters. Advisors can make a difference by helping these students connect with the resources that will help them overcome obstacles and successfully adjust to college life (Redden, 2008). Advisors can provide assurances that they will not be abandoned on the educational and financial battlefields.
Advisors working with military students can learn more about the complexities and successes of this student group by joining NACADA's Advising Military Students and Dependents Interest Group and its listserv. Supportive ideas are exchanged to better serve this population.
Lisa A. Keenan
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Watson School of Education
Bash, L. (2003). Adult learners in the academy. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing
Light, R. (2001). Making the most of college: students speak their minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Military Installation Voluntary Education Review (MIVER). (2003). Principles of Good Practice for Institutions Providing Voluntary Education Programs on Military Installations. American Council on Education. Retrieved on January 7, 2009, from www.acenet.edu/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search§ion=PDF6&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentFileID=299 .
Redden. E. (July 10, 2008). Operation transition in Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved February 16, 2009, from www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/07/10/veterans
Cite this article using APA style as: Keenan, L.A. (2009, June). Making a difference to a military student. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]