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May 4, 2015

Student veterans find success through university program

By Patrick Kaminowski

Kenneth Lunkins chats with a group of about 10 other fellow student veterans in a brightly lit corner of a room on the second floor of Rhodes West.

He asks for some help proofreading a research paper he is working on, and two guys eagerly jump in and offer to read through the paper.

Lunkins, a 65-year-old Marine Corps veteran, is very outgoing, friendly and jokes around often. A business major with a minor in human relations, he offers guidance and fields questions to incoming Cleveland State University vets in his job as an office manager in the Viking Vets office in Rhodes West.

Despite his laid back and outgoing demeanor within the Cleveland State veterans’ community, Lunkins admits he was basically lost when he first decided to go back to school. He wondered who to talk to and where to go, but he received a lot of guidance from other vets.

“I would’ve never survived my first semester at the university without the Vet Success program,” Lunkins said.

Lunkins is one of many student veterans at Cleveland State who has found educational success through the Vet Success on Campus Program.

A March 2012 study by the Colorado Workforce Development Council found that there are approximately 800,000 military veterans attending colleges in the U.S.

An estimated 88 percent drop out of school during their first year and only 3 percent graduate.
At Cleveland State, there are currently 550 students who have served or are now serving in military components such as the Reserves or National Guard, according to Dennis Ward, Vet Success on Campus counselor.

Many veterans who have never experienced the college lifestyle face difficulties making the switch from a military environment to college classrooms.

The Cleveland State Vet Success Program aims to make the transition from military to college life as smooth and painless as possible.

The program is a joint effort between Cleveland State and the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). What the Vet Success Program strives to do is provide a supportive, on-campus environment where student veterans receive assistant and support.

The Vet Success program offers a broad range of counseling services including educational, career and mental counseling.

Dennis Ward has been working within the program since its start in February 2010.

“The main focus is to ease the transition from military, to college, to employment,” Ward said.

Ward explained that students can also find employment through the Vet Success on Campus Program. There are five student employees now on staff, which consists of tutors, mentors and office staff.

Student vets are also encouraged to take advantage of the many health and medical resources that are available in the area. The Cleveland area has many healthcare facilities that offer both physical and mental care.

The Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center on the Wade Park campus has a broad range of care services, including in-patient care. The center serves more than 105,000 veterans each year.

Veterans Affairs also has smaller facilities in northeast Ohio that offer treatment for vets.

Vet Centers specialize in mental health treatment for vets who have been in combat operations. The East Side of Cleveland has a Vet Center located in Maple Heights, while the West Side has a location in Parma.
Community Based Outpatient Clinics, or CBOC’s, are also located throughout northeast and northwest Ohio. These clinics feature both physical and psychological treatment.

At Cleveland State, it seems that many student vets are transitioning well to the college lifestyle.

The average GPA for student vet undergrads in the fall of 2013 was 3.18 and 48.8 percent of students graduated with honors. Last year, the average GPA for undergrads was at 3.32, with 54.2 percent graduating with honors or higher, according to Bob Shields, coordinator of the Cleveland State Vet Success on Campus Program.

Student veterans at Cleveland State are also widespread throughout the university, covering many areas of study. High numbers of students are majoring in the College of Business as well as the College of Science and Health, with more than 100 graduate students now enrolled.

Although many student vets are scattered in so many fields of study, “the numbers are constantly fluctuating,” Shields said.

The switch over from military life to the classroom seems to have its ups and downs, and vets have their own personal way of going through it.

Paul Rebello, a 24-year-old computer engineering major and Marine Corps vet, said that being a student is a big change from working in the artillery field as a Marine.

“It took time,” Rebello said. “I had to put in effort to adjust to the lifestyle.”

Educational benefits, such as the Montgomery G.I. Bill and the Post 9/11 G.I. bill, are also a significant part of helping student vets obtain educational success without the worries of financial burden.
Rebello is thankful for being able to rely on educational benefits.

“It’s a great opportunity for service members to progress to a professional level,” Rebello said.

Back at the student dayroom, Lunkins gets feedback from a student vet on his research paper while making time for conversation and jokes in between. A few students take time from looking over notes and class work to converse.

As for veterans who may be thinking about pursuing an education at Cleveland State, Lunkins advises future students to allow time for studying and reading course material, as well as thinking critically in the classroom.

In many ways, from the interaction between Lunkins and other vets, it feels more like a family setting.

“We’re the biggest fraternity in the world,” he said.