Cadet Matt Kolster (photo by Creighton University)

Supporting the educational aspirations of active-duty and veteran military members, their spouses, and their dependent children is among Creighton University’s oldest commitments. It is one that commemorates the life and legacy of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a former soldier and the founder of the Society of Jesus, whose Jesuits have presided over Creighton since its establishment in 1878.

The University’s commitment to serving military-related students reaches back more than a century and has won significant modern recognition by being designated a 2023-2024 Military Friendly® School, a Best for Vets College, a Military Advanced Education Top College & University, and U.S. News & World Report‘s Best Online MBA Program for Veterans.

Creighton’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs assumes the responsibility of paperwork associated with various federal laws, including the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, thereby leaving military-related students free to focus on their studies.

Jennifer Austin, program coordinator for the office, manages all of the paperwork and guides students in what they must do to maintain their benefits. “The students provide us with just one document, which tells us what their entitlement is, and then we take it from there,” she explains.

The benefits provided by the 2008 bill apply to personnel who served at least 90 days on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001; received a Purple Heart after that date and were honorably discharged no matter the length of service; or served at least 30 continuous days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability. Qualifying service members may also transfer their benefits to their spouses and/or dependent children.

The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs manages military benefits across all nine of Creighton’s schools and colleges, along with the University’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides additional benefits once the Post-9/11 GI Bill* annual tuition and fees cap has been reached.

An additional source of military-related scholarship assistance is provided by the Army ROTC, whose presence at Creighton dates to 1919. The “Black Wolves” ROTC program serves three Omaha-area institutions of higher learning (including Creighton) and offers students three- and four-year tuition scholarships, to which Creighton adds free room and board, an additional benefit rare among universities in the United States.

In addition to the dramatically reduced cost of a Creighton education, Black Wolves cadets gain military training, along with a host of other opportunities such as mastering foreign languages through the Project Global Officer program. They maintain peak physical fitness, engage in regional and national competitions against other university ROTC programs, and, at the end of it all, are commissioned into a four-year term with the Army.

Joe Ecklund, Ph.D., Creighton’s assistant vice provost for advising and support, oversees Creighton’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. “We work exclusively with students who have VA education benefits,” he says. “We have active-duty people attending classes, veterans, spouses of military people, anyone who receives a VA education benefit, including the GI Bill®.* The vast majority of people we work with are dependents of military folks.”

Creighton currently has about 250 students supported by VA education benefits, he says, about 200 of whom are dependents of military personnel.

Cadet Carson Sturgeon (photo by Creighton University)

Cadet Carson Sturgeon, a Creighton junior from Virginia who is studying international relations, says Army ROTC made college possible for him. “I would have enlisted if not for this scholarship opportunity,” he says.

Instead, Sturgeon is captain of the Black Wolves’ Ranger Challenge Team and will travel to South Korea this December, where he will improve the conversational Korean he learned through Project Global Officer, all while learning the ropes of leadership.

“When I was a team member the last two years, all I had to do was show up and do what I was told,” he says. “Now, I have to help plan, which can be time-consuming and stressful.”

Then there is Cadet Matt Kolster, from Papillion, NE, a sophomore who pursues his cybersecurity studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and his ROTC duties at Creighton. He carries a full, four-year national ROTC scholarship and has spent time in Jordan learning Arabic through Project Global Officer.

“I know that for a lot of cadets from all over the country, coming into ROTC quickly provides a family, a support system, that you can use to succeed,” he says. “There’s always someone here to help, whether with ROTC itself or with academics. There is a lot of knowledge here. Being surrounded by 75 or 80 people who are very motivated and very dedicated and excited to learn and to grow is a very good environment to be in.”

All Creighton’s military-related benefit programs, as with Creighton programs generally, reinforce the overall themes of service to others and developing the whole person that characterize a Jesuit education. Mikaela Harvey, BS’18, a Black Wolves graduate and currently a first lieutenant in the Nebraska National Guard, teaches military science to Creighton’s ROTC cadets.

“When you look at what we do here, you can pretty much identify every Jesuit value,” she says. “Men and women for others, for example. They work as teams constantly and really push each other, but they are committed as very young adults to lead others and protect others, and make sure that they are helping others achieve their fullest potential.

“Our cadets are very competitive and work very hard academically and physically to push to that next level of service, and they perform very well once they become officers. Everything ties in nicely.”

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at benefits.va.gov/gibill.

By Eugene Curtin, Communications and Marketing, Creighton University