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UVU Column: UVU’s Veteran Success Center serving students and community

November 11, 2018

Director Sheldon Holgreen and staff at the new Veteran Student Success Center on campus at Utah Valley University, Thursday December 10, 2015.

When exiting military service, Junior Lobju was told he would be one of two things: a border patrol officer or a police officer. His interests led him on a different path.

With a friend’s encouragement, Lobju moved to Utah and enrolled at Utah Valley University in 2014. Finding resources was challenging, and with no help from Veteran Affairs, Lobju attended school without benefits.

“I came to school, went to my classes, then just went home,” he said.

Once UVU’s Veteran Success Center (VSC) opened in 2015, Lobju visited to get his benefits restarted.

“That was a turning point for me,” he said. “The center became my home away from home. I felt a sense of camaraderie like when I was in the military. People here are like me — they get it. I can come here and feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

With roughly 700 student veterans actively using benefits, the center also serves approximately 1,800 military-connected students. These include spouses, children and dependents.

The primary purpose of the VSC is to help veterans navigate a complex system. The week of training provided to those transitioning from active duty and exiting military service is not always enough.

“They throw a lot of information at you,” said Jordan Fuller, interim assistant director of the VSC. “Benefits are different for different types of veterans, and they don’t really explain that to you.”

The VSC staff strives to eliminate the confusion many service members feel, by helping students in the benefit application process. “We want students to know we care about their success,” Fuller said.

That success extends beyond paperwork.

“This is the day room,” said Guy Hurd, interim director of the VSC, looking at the room where a student is sprawled on a couch with his laptop open. “Students can come here, do their homework and relax, away from the busyness of campus.”

With a TV, snacks and even tutors, the day room offers a space for students to “take a knee,” a common phrase in military service. They can find solitude and nap, or they can find companionship and exchange war stories, or have coffee together.

“Everything at UVU is about being inclusive,” Hurd said. “We’ve tried to embody that by going beyond just helping veterans.”

While generally good at relating to professors and participating in class, veteran students don’t typically attend campus events.

“Most of them are a little older, work full-time jobs, and have a family,” Fuller said.

Because of this, the VSC works to plan family-oriented events catering specifically to military-connected students.

One such event is Veterans Week. Beginning Monday, there will be something for veterans, students and community members to participate in each day.

The main event will be at 8:30 a.m. Monday, and it will start with breakfast at Centre Stage in the Sorensen Student Center at UVU.

Following the breakfast will be a celebration from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Grande Ballroom featuring a color guard, the national anthem, two speakers, a children’s choir, a trumpet taps performance and refreshments.

Tuesday will feature a post-Vietnam conflict discussion panel at 10 a.m. as well as a Vietnam veterans panel at 11:30 a.m., both located in rooms 101A-B of the Clarke Building.

There will be tables around campus each day of the week featuring MRE tasting and writing thank-you notes for active duty service members. There will also be veteran war memorabilia on display in the George Sutherland Archives of the Fulton Library.

“We hope to engage with and educate the community and our students,” said Cheryl Gesullo, coordinator of events at the VSC. “We’d love for community members to come for any and all of the events.”

Junior Lobju will participate. As a UVU student, his life is on a trajectory far removed from the options he was originally given. He was awarded a federal work study at the VSC in 2017, and was later connected with TRIO, an educational opportunity outreach program designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The VSC helped me, and now I want to help other people,” he said.

Lobju will be graduating in December with a degree in information technology.

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