In January 2020, I began on a journey as the executive director of Community Assisting Military Personnel and Veterans (CAMPV), located in Tyler, Texas, (campvtyler.org) after previously serving as assistant director of career success at The University of Texas at Tyler (UT Tyler). I am not a veteran but have a passion working with the veteran community: I grew up in Connecticut around my grandfather, who struggled with his experiences in Vietnam; in addition, during my academic journey, I had a variety of experiences working with military-connected students, such as being a part of a team that developed a veteran discount program, volunteering with Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, and providing academic and career coaching. In August 2021, I returned to college career services after accepting a role at Washburn University as a career services specialist. However, I will not forget the lessons I learned at CAMPV from our veterans, active duty, and military families, lessons that have helped shift my focus as it pertains to career development in higher education.
One particular theme that I reflect on is around the idea of thanking a veteran for their service. Many veterans have told me that it can be uncomfortable to be thanked for their service as they were “just doing their job.” At first, I was a surprised by their responses, and I still firmly believe it is important to thank veterans for their service when appropriate. However, through this experience, I learned that, if you do not work toward establishing a greater understanding of the military culture, it is more difficult to establish a rapport with veterans, and that, in order to help our military-connected community, we have to work with partners and gain their trust not only by words but also through action.
Our military-connected students face many of the same challenges as other students, but their path to success can differ. As career development professionals, we play a pivotal role in helping them navigate their holistic pathway. Many of these students enter college with families, have prior professional experience, and tend to be older than traditional age students.
In April 2021, the team at CAMPV opened a women’s center that provides direct support for women and their children to address challenges specific to them. Throughout the process of opening this facility, I learned that many military-connected females experience military sexual trauma that can be an additional barrier to their success. In addition, many families relocate frequently while the student veteran is attending school, raising a family, and working. In a higher education setting, it is important for career development professionals to be aware of these potential challenges as they work with students to help them seek out employment opportunities. It is important for career development professionals to advocate for the proper training that will enable them to work effectively with students and refer them to appropriate departments for assistance. It is also important for career development professionals to build strong alliances with these departments.
I also learned the value of being proactive in establishing opportunities to get to know the military-connected students outside of your office. At CAMPV, our team encouraged veterans to visit, even if just for a cup of coffee. During my time at UT Tyler, our office established “Meet Your Career Success Coaches,” which were events where the career coaches introduced themselves and offered students in the colleges they represented coffee and tea. The biggest lesson I learned was showing the student you cared even if you did not have the answer or did not serve in the military. Conducting office hours near areas where military-connected students meet can help create opportunities to build stronger relationships. In addition, working with employers who have established military programs can assist in this process. As we are seeing more students via distance learning, placing a greater emphasis on social media, newsletters, classroom introductions, and targeted programming has also been helpful in engaging with students.
Career services has the opportunity to be a primary campus advocate for military-connected students. I am glad to be working at Washburn University, which is a military friendly school, and I know a lot of great work is taking place on other campuses working with military-connected students.