Survey of Military-Aligned Students Helps Dispel Misconceptions about Veterans in the Classroom

St. Bonaventure University will open a Veterans Center in Room 211/213 of the Reilly Center on Thursday at 2 p.m.  Credits: Haley Schrenk
Giles Bootheway, a lecturer in St. Bonaventure University's School of Business, listens to Michael Leonard, director of the university’s Military Aligned Students program, speak at a Thursday Forum. Credits: Richard Lee

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Some myths about military-aligned students were busted at last week’s Thursday Forum.

Not every veteran carries the burden of combat experience, Barbara Trolley, one of the forum’s speakers, told an audience of approximately 30 university faculty members in the University Club.

“I think a lot of times, people have the perception that everyone has had combat experience," Trolley said. “My comment is that every student is an individual and you have to get to know them.”

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During the forum, Trolley, a professor of counselor education, and Michael Leonard, director of the university’s Military Aligned Students program, presented the results of a faculty survey regarding St. Bonaventure’s military aligned students, as well as the services offered by the university.

The speakers said other common misconceptions about veterans are that they all are ready to take over and lead groups and teams, that they are ready for their majors, and that they do not cheat or plagiarize.

Trolley said the purpose of the survey was to increase awareness and to dispel any myths people have on military-aligned students in the classroom.

A total of 64 faculty members participated in the survey, Trolley said, noting that most faculty respondents indicated that they had contact with less than five veterans. “Interestingly enough, you may not know you have contact with a student veteran because not every student will self-identify,” she told the group gathered.

Among the faculty completing the survey, 67 percent have taught at least 10 years at the university, and most of those respondents teach undergraduates. Two-thirds of the respondents had no military affiliation; however, 25 percent had children who were in the military.

About half of the faculty members said that they knew their student veterans moderately well and rarely brought up issues related to the military with their students.

Regarding questions asked about faculty responsibility, university policy and traditional students versus student veterans, Trolley said, “Everyone came out neutral in a lot of the issues.”

The answers to the open-ended questions indicated concerns and assets that faculty feel student veterans have, as well as what faculty feel they need as teachers.

Common problems included schedule conflicts, mostly related to service duties; the fact they are nontraditional students who are older and have family responsibilities; the need for extra support inside or outside of the classroom, and having confrontational or strong personalities and mental health issues

“There may be issues, but most of these are transitional issues,” Trolley said.

Assets that faculty noted about student veterans in the survey are that they are more mature than other students; that they have larger perspectives and real-life experiences; that they are more disciplined; that they are leaders; that they are respectful; that they have strong work ethics, and that they are responsible.

Some instructor needs gleaned from the survey included knowing about mental health issues and about the needs of student veterans; knowing where to direct veteran-specific questions; knowing what resources are available to student veterans; understanding military culture, and realizing that they should not treat student veterans differently than traditional students.

Trolley also discussed the transition veterans have from a military lifestyle to the life of a college student. 

“We really have to be sensitive to the issues they are dealing with,” said Trolley. “A lot of the issues in the classroom might be transitional issues and have nothing to do with PTSD. They’re worried about having to buy books, providing for their family and readjusting again.”

“We kind of fulfill a consoling role, but not like a traditional admission or academic consoler,” added Leonard. “One of the things we do in the military is counsel soldiers, so we try to replicate this to help them transition from their rigid lifestyle.”

The new military aligned students program started this past academic year. This semester nine students have enrolled, and Leonard considers that total to be a success.

Leonard spoke about how former veterans generally do not have a good idea of what they want to pursue with their educations, but that makes them no different from the average student.

“Veterans have the same interests as everybody else in society,” Leonard said. “They generally take their military experience and relate that back to what they’re doing in the future.”

One of the popular majors among veterans is psychology. They want to become counselors to help other veterans, and that fulfills a huge need, said Leonard.

An important factor for veterans searching for career paths is structure. Leonard explained, “They are very structured in how they do things.” They have “the expectation of structure and checklists” and “become very frustrated when they go to an office or position and it is not structured in the way it is supposed to be.”

The rigid lifestyle of the military has trained them to demand structure, and that is why Leonard wants to help change their mindset into understanding university culture. “We need to transition them back into what we consider the norms,” he said.

Services that are offered at St. Bonaventure to student veterans are not limited to, but include recruitment and retention, a lounge and academic support center and counseling on career paths. For administrators, faculty, staff and the surrounding community the university offers conduct education and training on veterans’ issues, said Leonard.

The Office of Veterans Services has recently created a place where student veterans can be themselves outside the classroom, to help them transition beside other people who can relate to their experiences.

“This is not meant to be a green zone,” said Leonard. “It will a place so they can share their common stories that some people on campus just can’t relate to, such as dealing with PTSD, being in combat and having friends that have passed.”

The grand opening of the Veterans Center in Room 211/213 of the Reilly Center will be on Thursday at 2 p.m. 

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