Veteran Cap against Flag

By Sherry Bithell

At Stevenson University, veterans are more than welcomed—they’re appreciated for their service, and they’re supported throughout their education, including being prepared for a non-military career.

As Mark Hergan, Vice President, Enrollment, says, “We’re committed to veteran students. They’ve done something special for the country, so why wouldn’t we do something special for them?” To explore the ways Stevenson recruits and supports its veteran students, Ventures talked to a student and an alumnus to see how their SU experiences have been—and learned how they, in turn, are doing their part for other veteran students.

Making the Transition

Christian Manning

Christian "Mac" Manning

Christian “Mac” Manning (interdisciplinary studies ‘15) joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010 after an unsuccessful brief stint at another college, and after serving, he decided to give college another try. “After looking around at a few schools, I had heard that Stevenson was starting a football team. This intrigued me because I played football in high school. I was also looking for a university that I could perform well in. As an undergraduate, I started for the football team for three seasons and at the same time found myself performing well academically for the first time in my life.”

He says that for veterans, returning to civilian life can be difficult. “The Marine Corps was the greatest accomplishment in my life at that time. It can be hard to relate to other students because 18-year-old freshmen do not understand what it’s like to be in military service.” Yet because he joined the football team, he says, his transition was a little easier than most. “Playing a sport gave me a sense of purpose again. You wake up and go to practice, train with the team. Your teammates become your brothers in many regards, and that was a familiar feeling from the Marine Corps. I believe that because I became part of the SU community, I was able to enjoy my time here.”

Matthew Morris, who will graduate with a degree in business information systems in December 2016, had a similar start to his college experience. After a semester at Covenant College in Georgia that ended with a low GPA, he joined the U.S. Army and served for seven years. Because of his prior educational effort, he wasn’t sure where he would be accepted—until he came to Stevenson.

“I came here on instant decision day,” he recalls. “They looked at my packet, they looked at the courses I’d taken, and then one of the admissions counselors brought me into a meeting room and said, ‘We think you’ve worked hard enough to earn a second chance.’”

Morris says he’s paying that faith back in full. One advantage the second time around, he notes, is the discipline instilled by the military. Another is the set of tools he’d learned that have made him a more successful student.

Veterans at Stevenson“When you go into the military, they’re going to put you where they need you,” he explains. “So coming out of the military, you’ve learned something that maybe before you weren’t good at. I’m awful with math yet I was doing upper-level algebra because I was working with ballistics. So you gain the ability to learn something you didn’t know before and master it. That’s the word: master. That’s the level where they expect you to perform.”

As with Manning, Morris—who has a wife and two children—saw the difference between himself and traditional students. “Because I’m a commuter, it’s not as bad, but I could imagine a traditional student perhaps feeling lonely or not having many people to reach out to because they’re feeling by themselves.”

That’s a big adjustment, he adds, because it’s such a change of atmosphere for veterans. “American culture is very individualistic; people think, ‘What’s the value to me? Is this worth my time?’ In the military, it’s very collective. It is even reinforced as part of the Army Soldier’s Creed: ‘I will never leave a fallen comrade.’”

Veterans Serving Stevenson

Both Manning and Morris continue to help others by working to support students at Stevenson.

By working as an Admissions Counselor for transfer students, Manning says that his SU experience has allowed him to relate to prospective students on a more personal level. “I truly enjoyed learning here and that is something that I had never experienced before. My teachers, tutors, advisors, and coaches helped push me to succeed. I cannot tell you how much fear I had concerning science classes and math classes before coming to Stevenson, but I worked with the teachers and with the help of tutors. At the end of the semesters, I could feel that the teachers really wanted me to succeed.”

The combination of his military service and Stevenson education have led him to set his sights higher. “In the military, a quality that is instilled on everyone is leadership. My ultimate goal is to earn graduate degrees and pursue a career in higher education. It could be in student activities, maybe a program of study—who knows, maybe I could be a dean of students one day.”

While earning his degree, Morris works in Career Services as a Peer Advisor, helping students with their cover letters and resumes. He also reaches out to the veteran community, he says, to try and smooth the process of their seeking jobs after college by working with the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Economic Workforce and Development. In addition, he has talked with the heads of veterans clubs at Towson and the University of Maryland to see how they support their students.

“I’m trying to evangelize the importance of working with veterans. With each institution trying to do its own thing, you’re missing a lot of that teamwork that can help reach a similar goal.”

One way Morris has been trying to help both the Stevenson and larger veteran community has been through the Veterans Career Resource Guide created by Career Services. In addition to giving it to the University’s veteran students during drop-in appointments and at job fairs, he’s distributed it to the general community, including other colleges, workforce development centers, one-stop centers, and homeless shelters.

When he talks to Stevenson’s veteran students, he speaks from experience. “I give them a little bit of guidance and say, ‘As a veteran to a veteran, here are the problems I ran into, here’s how I solved them.’ I try to help them set themselves up for success so that when they’re done here, they don’t jump right into the void again like when they left the military.”

School's Certifying Official (SCO)

One person crucial to supporting veteran students at Stevenson is Laura E. Holland, Assistant Registrar, Veterans Affairs Programs. She serves as the School’s Certifying Official (SCO), which acts as the liaison between the students and the VA.

“One of my most important functions as SCO is making sure a student’s credits for which they are registered are certified so that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled for that corresponding semester,” Holland says. “Depending on the chapter under which their benefits are calculated, students receive assistance with their tuition and fees, as well as any housing allowance, if applicable.”

Other functions of her vital role include contacting the VA on behalf of any veteran student who expresses concern about their benefits or with questions about their entitlement. “I keep track of every student’s entitlement and any changes they make to their program and their schedules,” she says. “And, of course, I assist with the process of making sure students apply for educational benefits with the VA if they hadn’t already.”

Growing the Veteran Community

That Stevenson will continue to support its veteran students is being physically manifested. Hergan says “We’ve found that they need their own space, so we’re looking forward to building a Veteran Resource Center on the first floor of Garrison Hall this summer.”

The center makes both Manning and Morris feel optimistic about the future for veterans.

“As a prospective student who would see the Veterans Resource Center, I would be excited to come to Stevenson,” says Manning. “I think that as the school continues to grow, so too will the military community within the university. I have heard President Manning and Mark Hergan speak about attracting veterans, and their primary objective is providing a positive environment with top academic programs. Stevenson wants to give veterans their best opportunity to succeed.”

Morris agrees. “A Veteran’s Resource Center will help provide more awareness to other veterans on campus that there is the opportunity to make face-to-face contact with each other and get the support they need. This center will really help us meet our student veterans where they are. It’s important to make sure that we reach out to them, that we can identify them, that they’re getting the best education possible. It can sometimes be hard for a veteran to pluck up the courage to be a self-starter, but when every single part of your day is scripted and now you’re suddenly scripting it for yourself, it can be difficult to adjust.”

For these reasons and more, Manning says, “As an alumnus, I believe that Stevenson is an amazing place to get an education. The graduates that we produce are prepped and ready for the real world, and for a person who is getting out of the military, it’s an excellent choice.”