The BMCC Organization of Student Veterans hosted a recent holiday luncheon and about 30 veterans and friends sat in a circle introducing themselves: former Army, now criminal justice major; former Navy, now accounting major—and so it went around the room.
Jonathan Peña, a Liberal Arts major, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’ll probably check out resources here at BMCC when it comes down to switching majors or looking at career paths,” he said, “but as for educational benefits, I checked that out before I left the Army.”
Other student veterans do need assistance accessing military benefits for their education, or could use a specially trained person to help navigate their transition home—and BMCC is ramping up services to address those needs.
Meeting the need for more counselors
Through PROVE, the CUNY-wide Project for Return and Opportunity in Veterans Education, two interns from the Hunter College School of Social Work, Amy Tiscornia and Mark Russell, have joined the veterans’ counseling services at BMCC.
“There are approximately 400 student veterans at BMCC and the number is rising,” says Liz Kreel, Field Instructor for PROVE who is working with the new counselors.
That number has grown from about 250 student veterans in 2009, according to Eric Glaudé, the college’s first designated veterans’ counselor, who came on board that year.
Then, he says, “Anticipating the end of the war in Iraq—with troops returning home by the end of 2011—I knew there would be a double-fold return of veterans to college and enrolling at BMCC. The recent arrival of interns from Hunter’s School of Social Work was sorely needed.”
Support every step of the way
Michael Hutmaker, who joined BMCC in 2009 as Dean of Student Affairs, focused right away on student veterans.
“The first thing I did was put together a task force which is now our Veterans Support Team,” he says.
That team includes Eric Glaudé as well as José Altamirano in Financial Aid; Marie Morgan in the Office of the Bursar; Olga Padua in the Office of the Registrar; Brenda Worthington in Admissions, and Peter Roberts in the Academic Advising Center.
“BMCC is the only school with this service,” says Liz Creel. “The support team provides a designated point-of-contact person for student veterans each step of the way as they register and enter the college. The staff is very privy to veterans’ benefits and also sensitive to what’s going on, on a personal level, with returning veterans.”
A new Veterans’ Resource Center, and peer mentors
The new Hunter College counseling interns are also setting up a Veterans’ Resource Center at BMCC, something that became a possibility, Dean Hutmaker says, “when Fiterman Hall opened up this past August, making more space available on the main campus.”
Meanwhile, he says, “we were contacted by CUNY and connected with PROVE to enhance our services.”
Those services not only include the counselors from Hunter College, but a soon-to-be-hired administrator to coordinate veterans’ services and resources on and off campus.
In addition, Hutmaker says, the PROVE grant “made it possible to hire student veterans to work as peer mentors and serve as a resource for other students transitioning from military to civilian life.”
A guest speaker shares his story
Throughout this expansion of services, the BMCC Organization of Student Veterans, led by Eric Glaudé, has remained a constant.
At the group’s recent holiday luncheon, guest speaker Walter Bridgers, Chief of Service at the Department of Veteran Affairs Harlem Veteran Center and a licensed counselor, shared that he himself is “a 63-year-old disabled veteran who didn’t start college till I was 36 years old.”
He reminded the group that “vets from the Korean and Vietnam Wars advocated for the services you are receiving today,” and urged them to avail themselves of those services.
“Those of you who have been in combat may have suppressed issues and feelings,” he said. “Part of entering the military is that they break you down to build you back up…You might have trust issues or need assistance to complete your goals.”
Former Army Specialist Katrina Fulton, who served in Kuwait and Bahrain, agrees that counseling is important. “I really can’t go into what I was doing in the Army, because the mission is still going on,” she says. “But I’m currently going to see a counselor at a veterans center.”
Fulton, who will enter BMCC in January 2013 as a Criminal Justice major, attended the veterans’ luncheon and was surrounded by future classmates—including Ricardo Daily, a Liberal Arts major who provided quiet background music, playing Spanish guitar.
“We have access to resources outside the college that student veterans need, such as those pertaining to their benefits,” says counselor Mark Russell. “If a veteran has a question and I don’t know the answer, I know where to find it for them.”
Liz Creel adds, “Our message to veterans is, ‘You served our country and now we’re here to serve you’. Our mission is to make contact with every veteran on this campus, to assess their needs and address those needs, in order to ensure their academic success at BMCC and beyond.”
Amy Iscornia puts it like this: “We want to normalize their concerns. We want them to know they’re not alone, that with support, they will do fine.”
Another role the counselors fill, Iscornia says, is in helping returning veterans re-establish their career goals.
“Everything they’ve learned in military service can be applied to their academic success in some way,” she says. “In the same way, skills they’ve learned in the military can be translated to civilian workforce skills.”
“These efforts, the counseling and resources we provide, continue to be vital at BMCC,” says Eric Glaudé, “especially considering NATO’s endorsement this year of an exit strategy from Afghanistan, with even more troops scheduled to come home by the end of 2014.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Student veterans are welcome to stop by the Veterans’ Resource Center in S-106, Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They can also call the BMCC Counseling and Advisement Center at 212-220-8140.