Monday, May 21, 2012

From Boots to Books: How to Deal with Increase in Veterans On-Campus

By: Jenifer Kautzman, Assistant Registrar-Coordinator of Veteran Student Services (Missouri State University)

The Department of Veterans Affairs says enrollment of veterans in college has increased 16-fold and well over 500,000 veterans have traded in their uniforms for text books. With the development of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan coming to an end, colleges across the state are bound to see dramatic increases of veterans attending classes. At Missouri State University we've developed the Veteran Student Services office and Veterans Incentive Program to meet the growing demands of this unique group of students. After a 42% increase in the number of GI Bill recipients from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009 and foreseeing additional increases in enrollment after implementation of the upcoming Post 9/11 GI Bill our school realized that we needed to make some changes if we were going effectively handle with the volume of questions and processing that accompany VA Benefits. That was three years ago…and we’ve learned a LOT about ourselves, student-veterans and how to bridge the gap between warriors and their education. 

I’d like to share what we’ve learned so that other professionals in higher education can gain insight from our experiences. I’ll start with a brief history of our support services for veterans.

Prior to summer 2010 we assisted veteran students with their applications, certification and questions about GI Bill by utilizing a full-time staff member whose primary responsibilities were not related to veterans. They functioned in a dual role and that worked…for a while!  Then Chapter 33 (Post 9/11) GI Bill came on the scene and we quickly realized that a dedicated full-time position was necessary. We founded the Veteran Student Services (VSS) office in June 2010 as a function of our Office of the Registrar. We had a separate office entrance for VSS and the goal of this office was to assist veteran students with the application, certification and questions about their Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits (GI Bill) on a full-time base. We staffed this office with a full-time School Certifying Official (that’s me) and two VA work study students then quickly got up to speed on Chapter 33 and the all of the other benefits available to veteran students. Within a couple of months in the position, I came to realize that veterans were not just unique because of the type of federal benefit they used to pay for school…they had challenges and barriers to success that were much different than those of other students I had interacted with on-campus in the past. In order to learn more about these students and hopefully help them succeed in higher education in greater numbers, I applied for a FIPSE grant which would help me hire more staff and dedicate resources to student-veterans. In October 2010 FIPSE announced that Missouri State University was one of 15 schools in the nation to be awarded the Centers of Excellence in Veteran Student Success (CEVSS) grant. This gave us a 3-year, $387,000 opportunity to develop enhanced veteran programs at our 4-year (Springfield, MO) and 2-year (West Plains, MO) campuses. The goal of the program is to increase enrollment, persistence and graduation of student-veterans.

Out of that grant we developed what we call the Veterans Incentive Program or VIP. This program is designed to address the specific transition issues that veterans face as they leave military service and enter civilian life through educational institutions. We have certainly had some “growing pains” in developing a comprehensive veteran-friendly program and subsequently a veteran-friendly campus. When we first launched the program we knew very little about out student-veterans. The only interaction with veterans that we had was the few times a year our VA education benefit recipients had questions about their benefits. The only “tracking system" we had to gauge success of those students was a simple spreadsheet on a shared drive that listed the students who received education benefits and the type of benefit they were using. We immediately sought to fix this by increasing our interaction with students and developing new ways to gauge success through data collection and analysis. One of the first steps we took was to create a veteran “lounge” where students could interact with each other and have a safe place, among fellow warriors, where they could take a break from the daily grind of school, work and family to relax. We also hired a full-time VIP Coordinator who could devote time to discovering the challenges/needs of our student-veterans and then develop specific support systems to face those demands. 

We definitely felt overwhelmed at first; we were not sure what direction to start with since we didn’t really know much about our student-veterans yet. Our first attempt at VIP was a membership driven, closely monitored, mentorship program where students would elect to become “VIP” and in exchange, they would receive extensive follow-up and assistance. We thought that GPA was a good measure of success and so we instituted a GPA requirement that asked students to maintain a specific GPA once entering the program. If at any point during their membership in VIP they fell below that GPA we would intervene with one-on-one advising and required meetings with the Coordinator. We also felt that financial, family and emotional assistance were important factors for success and had built-in mechanisms to watch for red flags in any of those categories (steps included required tasks to correct issues before they became major concerns). After about 6-months of that model, it became clear to us that this was not what our students needed or wanted! While beginning to implement our plan, we were concurrently gathering data about our student-veterans. We realized the following: we had a lot more student-veterans on-campus than we even realized, many were not receiving VA benefits, and only a small handful were signing up for our VIP program. Not only that, very few veterans were using the Lounge we had created. We wanted to know why this was happening so we talked to our students and began listening to what they had to say! We made some fundamental changes in our program, including a different leadership model, and re-structured VIP…the result has been phenomenal and we’ve accomplished more in the past few months than I ever expected possible! We now have 3 full-time and 4 part-time employees who work only in Veteran Student Services. Our lounge is more popular than it’s ever been before with an average of 10 students per day. 

Top 10 Ways to Support Veterans On-Campus
  • Ask: The best advice I can give is talk to your student-veterans. Reach out to the student-veterans you have on-campus and let them tell you what they need or want.
  •  Listen: If your students are talking to you…do something with that information! Share your insights with others on-campus and start to build ways to fulfill the needs of your students.
  • Dedicate: I believe every campus today should have at a bare minimum a full-time VA school certifying official. Staff who are dedicated to veterans show a level of commitment from the school that earns loyalty from student-veterans.
  • Invest: The old adage “you’ve got to give some to gain some” is very true when it comes to student-veterans. You have to invest resources specifically to student-veterans in order to gain new students and keep the ones you have.
  • Support: The most important element that makes our program work on-campus is the support we get from higher administration. They want our office and our students to be successful. Building trust relationships with decision makers on-campus and having those folks support our efforts has made all the difference in our success.
  • Provide: One of the key components of our support structure at Missouri State is our veteran lounge and the staff we have in the office. Once you know what your veterans need and you have the staff/resources to begin meeting those needs you have to let veterans know you’re there and you care. Providing them opportunities to engage and develop relationships is vital step to success.
  • Collaborate: Develop a group of folks on your campus who have the desire to support veterans and the power to make things happen on-campus and get this group together to discuss what you can do to support veteran students. Utilize the resources that are already established on-campus.
  • Community: This is a two-fold concept. Not only do we strive to create a community for student-veterans on-campus but we want to engage with the community that surrounds them. We have received amazing donations from the surrounding community. All of the furniture in the lounge was donated by local businesses. We have a local coffee house donating coffee whenever we need it and we have members of the community on an advisory board we’ve developed. Partner with folks in your community to support your efforts.
  • Be Real: Veterans appreciate authenticity. They don’t want to hear “everything is wonderful and great” if that’s not reality. Develop programs/services that are of real value to student-veterans.
  • Sustain: Whatever program you develop or policies you implement be sure that you can sustain those efforts over the long haul. This is where campus and community support become vital. Our grant will exhaust next year…everything we’re doing now we’re doing with sustainability in mind. It will be important to support veterans for many years to come. Even when the wars are over…we will still have warriors trading in their boots for books.
For information on how to help Veterans on your campuses, use the provided resources:
American Council on Education (ACE) Veteran Friendly Toolkit:
Association of Veterans Education Certifying Officials (AVEC)
National Association of Veterans Program Administrators (NAVPA)  

MoCPA Election Results are in!!

Congratulations to the newly elected 
2012-2013 MoCPA Executive Board!!!!

President Elect – Rose Viau, Northwest Missouri State University
Member at Large - Michael Ignacio, Southeast Missouri State University 
Member at Large - Adam Vaughn, University of Phoenix- Kansas City
Secretary – Open
Public Institution Rep – Trent Ball, SEMO
Two-Year Rep – Joe Gilgour, State Fair Community College
Private Institution Rep- Nicolette Yevich, Central Methodist (Appointed to fill remaining 1 year of term left vacant by a departing board member)
Sponsorship Chair- Lucas Gorham – University of Missouri

Reflecting on MoCPA's 40th

Summer is upon us and the end of another successful year has come.  While summer means different things for each of us, we hope you are taking some time to recharge before the fall.  For MoCPA, part of our recharge is a celebration of what we have accomplished.

Our Annual Conference has evolved into an event that left attendees greatly impressed!  With the additions of a pre-conference workshop, attendance by state higher education officials, and enhanced program offerings our attendance soared to over 130.  We have our sights set on 150 for 2012 and know we can do it!  Our Support Staff Drive-In made for another great conference opportunity with approximately 40 attendees collaborating together at Westminster College in Fulton, MO.  This year also saw a new theme-specific drive-in workshop as Drury University hosted the MoCPA Crisis Recovery and Response Workshop.  Special shout-outs go to Angel McAdams, Nikki Cornwell, and Mindy Maddux and their conference teams respectively for the success of these conferences!

We also have many non-conference successes that have helped MoCPA reach new heights.  Todd Foley, our outgoing Publicity Chair, has worked hard to help us develop our identity with a new logo and design theme for our publications.  Todd also brought MoCPA the Ruby Society to help support graduate students and community college professionals.  Working with Todd, Claire Wiegand has worked to develop our new “News Blasts” (which you are reading now!) and has done a fantastic job getting the word out about our efforts.

We expect nothing but the best from MoCPA and are excited about the upcoming year.  Our elections have just wrapped and we welcome several new faces to the board.  Be sure to read the separate article in this news blast about our new additions.  This year will bring our Annual Conference to a new location as we move to Tan-Tar-A for a new experience!  We have yet to determine the location for this year’s Support Staff Drive-In, but we will be ready with another great professional development experience.

Before closing, I would like to extend opportunities for you to help the MoCPA Executive Board lay the course for the upcoming year.  Our Board has developed a tradition of meeting at different college and universities in Missouri.  Consider inviting us to your campus to meet you and your Student Affairs professionals!  We meet four times a year and would be happy to consider your school as a place to meet.  Also, be sure to let us know what is important to you.  Our Crisis Response and Recovery Workshop was a tremendous success and we would enjoy the opportunity to offer other theme-specific workshop events.  Let us know what you would like to see.

2011-12 was MoCPA’s 40th anniversary and the whole year was an amazing success!  2012-13 is a new year with new opportunities and we look forward to supporting your professional efforts however we can!   We’ll see you this fall at Tan-Tar-A!

Scott P. Shields
2012-13 MoCPA President

"The Professional Perspective"

MoCPA is a progressive state organization that takes pride in being current. In the past few months, many controversial changes have been proposed to higher education administration.  We would like to provide a safe and supportive venue for Missouri  higher education professionals to discuss and debate some of the relevant issues.  You, as members, can submit and discuss the questions on the MOCPA Facebook page MoCPA facebook page. You can also submit questions to

Question for May

"Given the current Missouri House bill "Don't Say Gay" 170.370. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.

How do you handle political rhetoric when the effect would be clearly against an already established institutional policy?

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Exciting Opportunity from Jessica Pettitt

The "It Gets Better" campaign is good and it isn't doing enough. It doesn't get better for everyone.

To make a difference, we need to examine ourselves, build, prepare, and support better LGBT Allies.

I am... Safe Zone is an answer.

Limited and Exclusive Offer


There is a problem. Largely, we know there is a problem. Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia – the irrational fear of anything perceived to not be heterosexual and/or gender conforming. Heteronormativity encompasses the privilege of straight male-bodied men expressing themselves in a masculine manner in relationship with straight female-bodied women expressing themselves in a feminine manner. LGBT Ally Development programs are developed to help build supportive climates, offer educated referral services, and provide compassionate listeners to those in need. These programs are often called Safe Zone Programs.

Non-white LGBQ folks are 65% less comfortable than white LGBQ on campus.

Moreover, within the "LGBT" community we argue about communities, language, terms, labels, etc., which are not visible within the community. The "It Gets Better" campaign is intended to provide hope and optimism to gay and lesbian youth contemplating suicide. The "family" people sometimes refer to within the LGBT community at times is extended to straight allies. However the intersections of dominant identities shows up in our Ally Development that limits members of the family and allows for the most privileged of voices to set an agenda that is self indulgent and is leaving many, many people out.

The truth is — it does get better — for some — and for others it doesn't or won't — unless we do something different RIGHT NOW.

Trans folks report even higher levels of intimidation, exclusion, bullying, feeling like a target.

Safe Zone Programs are quite common on college campuses, usually presented as an organized system of training and recognizing campus allies. Participants attend 1-8 hours worth of LGBT training ranging from language and cultural education, local and national resources, coming out processes and identity development models, and sensitivity education that interrupts bias and makes appropriate referrals or responses as needed.

51% of LGBT students, faculty, and staff conceal their sexual orientation/gender identity to avoid intimidation or harassment.

I have worked on various campuses in developing and administering Safe Zone programs as a graduate student and professional staff member. Now, as a full-time social justice speaker and consultant, I have worked with dozens of campuses to develop, update, assess, market, and administer trainings of trainers and curriculum, leading to a better understanding of campus climate and its improvement. After seven years of traveling campus to campus — I decided to take a stand — This is my Safe Zone Manifesto.

Participation in a Safe Zone training is the #1 factor looked for by those seeking.

A Safe Zone curriculum and the training of its trainers MUST be able to facilitate conversations that address the complicated realities of both dominant and subordinated identities represented within the "LGBT" and Ally communities. Even further, trainers and curriculum developers need to be self-reflective and understand their own privileges and lenses that they themselves are bringing to the education and training process. Tough conversations addressing language, power, bias, policy, procedures, exposure, awareness, and collusion MUST be and play a significant role in Ally Development.

Program participant: "I felt energized at every step of the way. Jessica is a GREAT facilitator."

My personal motto is — if you name a problem, be a part of a solution. I bring you — I am... Safe Zone. I have developed a three-part DVD program that takes viewers through three different highly interactive programs addressing what is typically missing in standard Safe Zone programs. I am also including a jam-packed Resource Disc with assessment tools, articles, suggestion starting places, facilitator guides, and much more. The idea is that any individual or group can watch, participate, and learn how to be a better and more inclusive LGBT Ally. I am... Safe Zone could be the starting point for your organizations Safe Zone program or it can help existing Allies be even better.

I am... Safe Zone includes three interactive DVDs:

          • Disc 1: Sticks and Stones: LGBT 101
          • Disc 2: Gender This!
          • Disc 3: Messages I Learned
***Plus a bonus Resource Disc including Facilitator Guides for all of the activities***

This limited pre-sales offer gives you 50% off!

For $250 you get 3 interactive DVDs and the bonus Resource Disc including Facilitator Guides for all of the activities. After July 1, 2012, the regular price for this training package will be $500. The estimated ship date is June 30, 2012.

To be part of the solution — click here.

For more information about Jessica Pettitt, please visit her website.