A first-of-its-kind program to support incoming student veterans is launching this fall at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Developed by the university’s Veterans Success Center within the Division of Student Success and made possible by generous donations from the Pilot Foundation and the Boyd Foundation, the Veteran Impact Program will provide around 30 new students with academic and professional programming, resources, and support to help them successfully navigate the transition from the military to university studies.
“The University of Tennessee has the unique opportunity through our strategic vision to cultivate a Volunteer experience in which every Volunteer flourishes both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Amber Williams, vice provost for student success. “Based on student feedback, the Veteran Impact Program is designed to provide meaningful academic and co-curricular experiences to enhance their academic, personal, and career goals. To our knowledge, it’s the first of its kind cohort-based program specifically designed for veterans.”
This fall, UT will welcome about 200 student veterans to campus—expected to be the largest group since the Veterans Success Center was established in 2017. More than 1,200 student veterans and military-connected students are currently pursuing degrees on campus.
All newly admitted student veterans were invited to apply for the program. Participating students will work with a CliftonStrengths-certified academic coach who is skilled in helping veterans connect their talents to their academic dreams. Program services include a special veteran orientation, a transitions course, and additional academic support.
“The goal is to show our student veterans the value of participating in the services we offer,” said Tom Cruise, assistant director of the Veterans Success Center. Cruise, an Air Force veteran, used his GI Bill benefit to attend UT, where he earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. “We want to give them the best opportunity to be retained and ultimately graduate with a college degree in hand.”
UT consistently ranks among the top 50 public universities for veterans and has earned designations as a Military Friendly Gold School and Military Spouse Friendly School. Veterans, active military, and ROTC cadets attend the university at the in-state tuition rate.
“We know our students thrive when they have both the academic support they need and the sense of belonging that we all seek,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “That is why we are creating innovative new programs like the Veterans Impact Program. Our student veterans come to campus with very different experiences than many of their classmates. This program will provide them not only resources and academic support but also a place to build connections and relationships.”
The Veterans Success Center’s offerings to support student veterans continue to grow.
In 2021 the center offered the first Transition 201: Transitioning to Rocky Top course exclusively for student veterans. This fall the course will have two sections, with triple the number of students enrolled. An optional special orientation session, Vet Camp, has expanded into a full orientation, and the center has hired an academic coach. Cruise coordinates services such as learning assistance, giving student veterans the option to have their sessions in the familiar environment of the center.
“It feels really good to talk to people who have the same circumstances as you do,” said Emily Howard, a US Navy veteran from Sandusky, Ohio, and incoming social work student. “Beyond getting assignments and checklist items done for starting school, you can talk about what your service was like, and they’ll understand how stressful it can be to go from a military to civilian lifestyle.”
Howard, who will participate in the inaugural VIP class, has already benefited from going to the Veteran’s Success Center for help with financial aid and other questions. Beyond academics, she looks forward to social events the center puts together for student veterans, including tailgates for football games during the fall.
“Whether it’s financially, socially, or academically, UT is putting everything we can into this program to make sure our student veterans feel like they belong,” Cruise said.
The kickoff event for the Veteran Impact Program was held at the center on August 16. To learn more about the Veterans Success Center and its support for student veterans, visit its website.
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