With a growing number of student veterans and active service members joining the student population at Keene State College, there comes a greater need for support systems for these students. At KSC, support for these students can be found at the Veterans Services Office.

Luke Sweeney / Equinox Staff

Luke Sweeney / Equinox Staff

KSC junior Mikey McDonough is an active service member of the Air National Guard (ANG). Also a junior, Ryan Dearden is an active service member of the Army Reserve.

They both agreed that as they have lived as students in the Keene area, and as they attend class and campus activities, they feel no different than any other student. McDonough, who is taking five classes, working part time and taking flight classes in hopes of becoming a pilot, said, “I feel no different than anybody else, I feel like a student.”

Dearden, opposing McDonough, said the number of students involved in the military at KSC is rising and with that there is a certain “disconnect” between professors and the students in their classes.

Dearden added part of the problem lies in the college’s lack of written policy as to how active service members are supposed to manage both school work and their job while being deployed.

The lack of policy can cause confusion, according to Dearden, who believes that by adding a written policy, professors and active service students would be on the same page as far as what is required or expected from them both.

Dearden also said that throughout the many career options the armed forces can offer, many pertain to safety – one of KSC’s most attractive majors with 353 students enrolled in the undergraduate program, according to the 2015 KSC Factbook.

As more military members come to KSC in hopes of strengthening their knowledge in fields such as safety, he said this disconnect must be highlighted and addressed before more issues arise.

While KSC does not participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which can allow qualifying active service members and their dependants access to free or reduced tuition and room fees to public schools, it does offer other services and scholarship/federal aid opportunities as well as unprecedented support to veterans through the KSC Veterans Services Office.

Both McDonough and Dearden agreed that while the disconnect between professors and student-veterans is real and can affect their experiences as students at KSC, the Veterans Service Office has provided crucial support when needed.

While speaking about their experiences, Dearden said, “nine out of 10 times you get a professor that is completely understanding.”

A faculty member who was continuously brought up in conversation as someone McDonough and Dearden both turn to when they need help addressing a problem or question is Robyn Lucius.

Lucius is the Certifying Official at the Veterans Services Office and deals with veterans’ affairs on campus. Lucius is in charge of finding out all information that is applicable to benefits each applicant may be eligible for. And after the student is accepted, Lucius describes herself as the “liaison” to active service members and veterans on campus.

Lucius also commented on the lack of written policy, and mentioned that “written policy is done at the federal level through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and that if a student were to have their enrollment at the school terminated, they are able to claim ‘mitigating circumstances.’” That means if, for whatever reason, a student does not complete the required course load and has a legitimate reason as to why it is not done, that reason is filed and it is investigated.

This claim is for students who have had to have left school and, according to Lucius, have “10 to 12 different categories to use, such as deployment, as to why they may had to have left the school.” During the termination process, Lucius said, “I can put in the reasons for those mitigating circumstances, and from there it’s between the student and the VA to prove those circumstances.”

Lucius and the Veterans Services Office on campus are there to answer any questions students may have about their own eligibility for tuition benefits, or any other questions they may be able to answer.

Lucius has veterans in her family and understands the sacrifices that active service members and veterans have made in order to serve their country and she hopes to help every student that comes through her office in any way they need.

Both Mcdonough and Dearden are grateful for the work that she does as well as the support the Veterans Services Office has given them over their time at KSC.

Lucius continues to work closely with active service members who are students in hopes of having a conversation with the KSC faculty about the importance of students involved in the military and the importance of the support system that the faculty is there to provide.

Bill Sheerin can be contacted at wsheerin@kscequinox.com

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