“The members of the armed forces have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and they are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems,” President Franklin Roosevelt declared on June 22, 1944, upon signing the first G.I. Bill into law. As President Roosevelt recognized the sacrifice and service of men and women in uniform, the G.I. Bill transformed the face of American higher education. For the first time, the doors to American universities were opened to the middle and poorer classes of our society as millions of veterans attended college. These men and women became the intellectual capital that drove the economic engine resulting in the United States becoming the most powerful nation in the world.
Canisius College welcomed the returning veterans and, in 1949, the graduating class was 92.5 percent veteran. While the numbers of veterans on the Canisius campus are no longer this high, Canisius has maintained itself as an institution that recognizes the service and sacrifice of our veterans. In 2009, the G.I. Bill Education Program was overhauled to restore access to education, which President Roosevelt intended in 1944. The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, like the original G.I. Bill, has reopened the doors to college for nearly a million veterans and their dependents.
Stepping forward once again, Canisius continues to support our nation’s veterans by partnering with the Veteran’s Administration as a Yellow Ribbon school, which ensures 100 percent tuition coverage for a fully-eligible veteran. Named a 'Military Friendly School' by GI Jobs Magazine for three consecutive years, Canisius has seen a 300 percent increase in the number of veteran students on campus since 2007. In order to support the unique needs of our new generation of veterans, Canisius established an Office of Veteran Services in 2011. The mission is to create a truly veteran-friendly campus by coordinating and facilitating programs along with increasing on-campus awareness among the Canisius faculty and staff. I run the one-stop shop, which provides a full spectrum of support and programs to veterans and those who continue to serve in our Armed Forces. I’m the first person who veteran students meet when they arrive on campus. Veterans who return to an academic environment need a specialized approach to their education. They also need a veteran-specific support system and I help facilitate that.
Some veterans need to re-learn how to be students because they’ve been away from the classroom for so long. Others struggle because they must balance a full course load with full-time work and a family. Veteran students are also older than their non-military peers and come to class with life experiences that their younger counterparts can’t relate to. Ordinarily, this might make it difficult for veterans to feel connected to campus. At Canisius, we keep an eye on new veteran students. A Veteran Orientation Program connects them with both other veteran students and services such as Campus Ministry, the Counseling Center, Student Support Services and the Career Center, to create a support network and build trust, which replicates the feeling of unit cohesion with which they are familiar.
One of the most important commitments that Canisius has made to support returning veteran students was the establishment of a Veteran lounge in 2011. The lounge provides an inviting space where veteran students can socialize with other veteran students, study quietly or grab a cup of coffee. The lounge is located directly next to my office, which provides convenient access for veteran students to drop by to talk about classes, to ask VA questions, or to reminisce about their time in uniform. Canisius has created an environment where veteran students can achieve academic success, as well as access support if they need it.
Senior Airman Eric E. Bauer ’10, MBA ’11 spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. A loadmaster for the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, his tour of duty included combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. His service left him with a broken back, hearing loss and post traumatic stress disorder. In 2004, the Air Force granted Bauer an honorable discharge. He struggled with his transition from military to civilian life, and anticipated similar challenges when he decided to pursue his college degree. “I found the support I needed at Canisius and its Office of Veterans Services,” says Bauer. “Camaraderie is healing and it is beneficial to be with people who have the same mindsets, who can empathize and who are going through some of the same transitions from military to civilian life.”
From rationing during World War II, to the protests of the war in Vietnam, civilian populations in the past were more connected to the wars our nation fought. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, they became more and more invisible to the majority of Americans. At Canisius, we use Veterans Day to bring our current wars back into focus. For just one day, veteran students wear their medals, and during the day, we hold multiple events to recognize all our veterans, giving special notice to the memory of those who have given their lives. Such events include a wreath-laying by members of the Greatest Generation at the campus memorial, and book readings and lectures by students from the prestigious Army War College.
Our Veterans Day program brings our entire campus together in a day of reverence and remembrance. For the past two years, in the center of campus, volunteers have read of the names of the men and women who have died in service since September 11, 2001. This reading takes eight hours to complete, and the entire Canisius community participates - participants from across the Canisius family, including professors, staff, veteran and non-veteran students take turns reading.
With the draw-down of military forces combined with the increasing need for college education, one can expect more veterans enrolling in college. The Canisius Office of Veteran Services will continue to be there to meet the needs of veteran students and continue a nearly 70-year tradition of supporting those who have served our nation and to play its part in educating “The New Greatest Generation.”
Photo of Andrew P. Overfield courtesy of Canisius College.