College Ranks High For Veteran Support

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New Paltz has once again been ranked as one of the most military-friendly universities in the United States, this time earning a spot on Victory Media’s 2016 list.

An honor reserved for the top colleges, universities and trade schools that take measures to embrace students affiliated with the military, the relatively new service welcomes the ranking as their second honorable mention — their first came from the U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 “Best Colleges for Veterans.” They were ranked number 18 in the nation.

Veteran and Military Services was created after Student Accounts Director Niza Cardona requested funding for the Yellow Ribbon Program, a subsidy for out-of-state and in-state veterans. Upon request, administration decided that it would be better suited if New Paltz  took the funding for the Yellow Ribbon Program and instead invested it into hiring someone to become the veteran coordinator.

“After meeting with a search committee that consisted of key players from offices like the counseling center, academic advising and financial aid, we attended conferences to better understand what kind of person we were looking for to run the program,” Cardona said.

Their search ended with Jason Gilliland being hired as Veteran and Military Services Coordinator.

The program is off to an excellent start, considering the office of Veteran and Military Services only officially opened its doors on May 5, 2014. According to Gilliland, they do not intend to stop here.

The last year and a half has been spent updating policies to meet the needs of the specific student population, while implementing a number of new events and programs designed to foster a closer relationship between the service and the students.

“As time goes on we’ll hopefully have more and more veteran students and dependents, we’ll just have to continue the momentum and continue making their existence matter here on campus,” said Cardona.

Working closely with Cardona and other departments of the university gave way to policy revision that better suited the students.

Events like the Meet and Greet with Students, Faculty and Staff and the Veteran’s Day Dine-In allows military-affiliated students to converse with their professors outside of the classroom, connect with their peers, and feel the campus’ appreciation for their efforts as students and service to the country.

Meeting the unique needs of the students is a priority of the Veteran and Military Service, sparking the creation of programs like the Department of Veteran Affairs Work-Study Program for working students, evening and weekend hours to accommodate their unpredictable schedules, and laptop sign-out that allows access to technology they may not be able to afford and as a necessity when they are on the go.

With nearly 200 veterans, service members and dependents on campus, it only continues to grow as students flourish in the program.

“I think they have responded pretty well to our efforts,” Gilliland said. “Many of them come to our office to chit chat, grab a snack, or even ask for help.”

As for the future of the program, the staff is always looking to improve the program anyway they can. A year long assessment started this semester is currently in progress to survey students about their wants and needs. Spring semester will see smaller focus groups surveyed— allowing students to feel their voices are heard— before all the information is analyzed this coming summer.

“Our office is still relatively new so I am hopeful that we will continue to earn their trust and become the advocates for them that we want to be,” Gilliland said.