Student Veterans: A New Energy on Campus

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Michelle Terreri, who works in Professor Paul Boxer’s Psychology lab, is a U.S. Army active duty veteran. She meets weekly with Boxer and lab manager Joanna Kubik.

A generation or so ago, college students and military veterans often mixed as well as oil and water.  Fortunately, Vietnam-era attitudes toward veterans have been replaced by new acceptance, new respect, and new federal veterans benefits, bringing a new generation of veterans to Rutgers University, Newark.  And there is an added wrinkle: Many of those veterans are female.

More than 250 students are attending R-N courtesy of one of the federal GI Bills, which provide up to 36 months of education benefits for both undergraduate- and graduate-level studies. Enrollment has almost doubled since 2008, when Rutgers began a university-wide initiative to recruit more veterans and provide them with services tailored to their unique needs.  The  veteran population includes active duty veterans -- both those who served stateside and those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- as well as National Guard members. 

As part of the university’s efforts to serve student veterans, each campus has a veteran services coordinator; at R-N it is Gerald Massenburg, associate chancellor for student life. ”The number of veterans enrolled at our university has grown, which is a testament to the enhanced delivery of service from the university on behalf of these brave men and women,” he states. 

In fact, the University as a whole is ranked third nationally as “Best for Veterans” by Military Times Edge magazine.

Rutgers-Newark is a learning experience for both the vets and their classmates, faculty and staff.  Moreover, the student veterans add a new dimension to the overall cultural richness of a campus that already is diverse in terms of ethnicity and religion.

“Veterans are welcomed and well-received on campus, by classmates and professors,” says U.S. Army active duty veteran Michele Terreri, who is president of the Rutgers Student Veterans Organization. Many veterans are older, and many are married with children, so the large number of non-traditional students on campus makes them feel at home, she observes.  What’s more, Rutgers-Newark is not a party school, which also fits in with many of the veterans’ lifestyles.

“Less then .001% of the population sign that contract to give their life and wear the uniform, and everyone does it for a different reason. But I think having someone who has either served or is serving in class is pretty awesome,” states student Lisa Panilla. Lisa was so inspired by the veterans on campus that she herself enlisted in the National Guard.

Alex Neeley, an active duty Marine Corps vet, is earning his MBA at the Rutgers Business School, where 100 veterans are enrolled.  He believes that his background helps him bring a “different perspective” to class discussions.  He likes the fact that his MBA classmates, like Neeley himself, tend to be older, more serious about their degree and more focused, with real-world experience, all of which make him feel very comfortable.

Terreri and Neeley believe that professors appreciate their maturity and focus in the classroom, an observation echoed by Psychology Professor Paul Boxer, who has taught veterans in several classes.  “I can vouch for their engagement in coursework, their commitment to doing well, and their work ethic as indicated by attendance and performance.”