In 1861, it was likely impossible to ignore the effects of war on Hamline’s campus. With 119 able-bodied male students and professors serving in the Union armies during the Civil War, enrollment dropped from 60 to 16, and there was no graduating class in 1862. The remaining female students sewed a 9- by 17-foot American flag with 34 stars—one for each state at the time—that flew over the university from a 20-foot pole.
The military scene on campus today is obviously remarkably different. There are 70 to 100 students on campus who utilize military education benefits. Some are current members of the military, some are veterans, and others are dependents—the spouses or children of veterans. They blend seamlessly with Hamline’s 5,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students. Those called to active duty overseas may return to Hamline months later, transitioning between student and military life.
And while that famous Civil War flag still exists (as photographed for the spring 2011 cover of Hamline magazine), at 150 years old it is carefully preserved in the university’s archives. Meanwhile, Hamline, which was recently named a top Military Friendly School by GI Jobs Magazine, supports its modern-day troops in other ways.
In the mood for a brainteaser? Surf the Veterans Administration (VA) website. While it attempts to simplify the process of choosing a school and applying for military benefits (the site breaks it down step-by-step and provides helpful tools like a roadmap, a benefits calculator, and comparison charts), the process is anything but simple. There are different kinds of benefits, depending on your service or relation to a veteran; how much money you receive is based on the state in which you live; some benefits are
received monthly, some by semester; some are awarded to the student, while some go directly to the school; a housing allowance may or may not be included; and
the list of details goes on.
If anyone can sympathize with students working through this system, it’s Hamline Financial Aid Counselor Josh Nelson who assists veterans and members of the military. “The VA is great,” he says. “It’s wonderful that students get these benefits, but it’s a huge challenge to navigate. It’s so big, and there are constant changes.”
Once veterans identify their benefits, Nelson takes care of the rest, working with the VA to process the forms and enroll them at Hamline. For some, like Nicole Schiller ’14, the transaction is effortless. “Hamline took care of everything,” she says. “I provided a letter from the military stating that I had the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and Hamline worked directly
with the VA to ensure that everything went through. The school kept me informed with regular emails as to where things were at so I never had to worry.”
Another way Hamline makes life easier for military students is through its participation in the Yellow Ribbon Education Enhancement Program. Through the program, Hamline offers an enhanced tuition benefit to qualified veterans at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which is matched by the VA. It also includes a living stipend so that many veterans can attend Hamline for free. “There’s momentum across higher education to support veterans, but particularly at Hamline,” says Nelson. “There are so
many returning veterans these days, and we want to be competitive and prepared to assist them when they’re here.”
The struggles of civilian life
Jamie McClary MNM/MBA ’12, program administrator at the School of Business, knows firsthand the trials for veterans and their families. Her husband, Lee, served four years in the military, enlisting when he was 17 and serving two tours in Afghanistan. Since her husband’s return in 2004, McClary has been active with local veterans organizations as well as serving on Hamline’s Veterans Affairs Committee—a group represented by various offices on campus, including the dean of students, the chaplain, disability services, marketing, and others—which strives to provide resources and support for the university’s military community.
“Many veterans don’t like to ask for help,” she says. “They’re trained in the military to push forward and to take care of themselves. There’s so much red tape with the VA that many of them give up rather than seek assistance. They need advocates like Josh who will call the VA and help them navigate the system.”
For Nelson and other members of the Veterans Affairs Committee, McClary offers perspective on life as a veteran. For example, many suffer from physical disabilities and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, and even without such conditions, adjusting to life outside of the military—suddenly void of structure and meaning—can be difficult.
There are many government programs and resources dedicated to these concerns, but, says McClary, it’s often a matter of connecting veterans to those services. “The programs exist, but it’s hard to know how to access them,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important for Hamline and other schools to be aware of these issues and to try and connect their military students to the resources that can help them.”
How Hamline helps
As a small, liberal arts institution, Hamline is well equipped to provide for the needs of military students. In fact, most of them cite the same reasons for choosing Hamline as traditional students—its academic reputation, small class sizes, and personal attention from faculty and staff members. “The services we provide for all students—the Career Development Center, counseling and health services, disability services, financial aid, etc.—address many of our veterans’ needs,” says Alan Sickbert, dean of students.
“As with all our students, we try to be honest and up front with them and let them know that this is a supportive community.”
With an increased number of military students on campus, however, an expanded effort has been made to understand and provide for their unique needs. Matt Morgan, chemistry professor and chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, has the experience to provide insight. Morgan was accepted to the Air Force Academy directly out of high school and served in the military for 26 years. His goals for the committee include fostering Hamline’s newly established undergraduate veterans student organization and establishing formal procedures that help deployed service members stay on track academically. His first priority, however, is awareness. “We want to let veterans know
that we exist and that we have resources dedicated to their needs,” he says. “We also want to educate the campus community—perhaps organize public forums on military issues. For a lot of people, their only experience with the military is Top Gun. The extremes tend to get the press, but your typical military person is just a normal person like me.”
All in the family
The committee’s goals continue to take shape. This fall, students utilizing military benefits were greeted with a letter introducing them to committee members and were invited to the annual on-campus reception to honor veterans and those serving in the military. The committee also hosted a 9/11 10-year commemoration event this year.
Meanwhile, Nicole Schiller ’14 launched the undergraduate veterans student organization. It joins the previously established Hamline Law Veterans Association for law and graduate students and hopes to provide similar programming—both on-campus support and social opportunities, as well as useful seminars. Last spring, the Law Veterans Association hosted a forum, “From the Battlefield to Business: Helping Veterans Navigate Business Formation and Management.” The event introduced campus and community veterans to resources such as the Minnesota Veterans Small Business Loan Program; the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offers support for veterans with disabilities and female veterans; and SCORE, a local nonprofit that counsels small business owners and entrepreneurs. It also connected them with local lawyers who specialize in veterans’ issues who helped explain the intricacies of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects the civilian employment of active service members called to duty.
Schiller expects the undergraduate group to serve as a social, service, and informational hub. She intends to establish a regular meeting time and space for veterans, to organize a holiday event to send items to troops overseas, and to formulate an email listserv to keep those utilizing military benefits informed of changes. “It’s not just for members of the military,” she says. “One of our students was recently married, and her husband was deployed. She joined for the support of a military family and to help feel connected to his experience. We also help members transition from military life to student life. Many have never taken college-level classes before or they’ve had to leave Hamline for deployment and are adjusting to being back.”
But, says Schiller, despite the stark contrasts between student and military life, there are some comforting similarities at Hamline. “I’ve been so impressed with Hamline,” she says. “Everyone has made me feel welcome—there is a supportive community for veterans here. In many ways school reminds me of the military because we all work together and help each other out.”
Article by Phoebe Larson