Student service members and veterans make up an active portion of the student population at Texas A&M University. These students could be veterans entering higher education after fulfilling their military duties or even active duty men and women who are attending colleges and universities while balancing their military responsibilities. Balancing these responsibilities and transitioning to new environments is not always without its challenges.
Dr. Adam Barry, an associate professor in health education at Texas A&M, conducts research exploring the unique issues pertinent to student service members and veterans. Dr. Barry’s work contends that student service members and veterans often have trouble finding social connections and common ground with their civilian peers.
“We’ve found that student service members find it hard to connect with civilians on a university campus because they are from very different environments and have very different life experiences,” Dr. Barry said. “Essentially, these differences and lack of commonality highlight the desire of student service members and veterans to receive social support and social connectedness from other military-affiliate students.”
Lack of social peers
Dr. Barry’s work seeks to establish an evidence base that can inform programs which can be enacted to foster continued success for student service members and veterans.
“A new G.I. Bill passed in 2009, so you’ve got 2 million men and women who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Unfortunately, there’s not enough data specifically on these students which can assist in the transition to higher education,” Dr. Barry said.
Dr. Barry believes that some of the reasons classroom transitions are so tough for student service members and veterans, can be linked back to their training and perspectives in deployment — perspectives that are not always lost when they return home or enter a college campus. Students like Kameron Yellin agree.
“I didn’t really find social equivalents,” Yellin, a senior sport management major, said about his civilian classmates. “The things that civilians find important versus what military finds important are completely different. I think it has to do with life experiences and work experiences.”
Yellin served five years in the Marines before returning home to Texas at the age of 23. After attending Blinn College for three semesters, he transferred to Texas A&M. He believes he aligned more with his professors than his fellow students.
“It was like we were born in different eras,” Yellin said. “I didn’t fit in.”
Despite his lack of social support from his peers, Yellin said that he made very high grades, something that he wasn’t used to doing in grade school.
“It’s about dedication,” Yellin said. “The Marines teach you how to do something — and do it well, and to always accomplish your mission. Right now graduating college is my mission.”
Dr. Barry has found this to be true in all branches of the military.
“What we’ve found with our student service members and veterans is that they perform really well in the classroom,” he said. “They gain a lot of skills during the time they spend in the military that are highly relevant to higher education.”
Fortunately, there are a number of campus groups including the Texas A&M Veterans Resource & Support Center and the Student Veterans of America (SVA) that do contribute to continued success of student service members and veterans.
Dr. Barry has strong affiliations with the Military Family and Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University, an organization that has provided support in Dr. Barry’s continued efforts to find more data and ways to provide more support for student service members and veterans.
“I think the transition from a military environment to a college environment is difficult,” Dr. Barry said. “So my ultimate goal is that we develop and implement a model program that universities can use to support the transition and integration of student service members and veterans into higher education.”