Christy Hinnant spent eight years in the U.S. Army, primarily as a human resource specialist. Her time in Iraq — at one point she was with an explosives disposal unit when its truck ran over a bomb — left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In January, she came to UNCG to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with plans to become a therapist specializing in PTSD patients.
Christy says UNCG’s support for veterans, including a full-time veteran services coordinator and an active Student Veterans Association (SVA), has made her return to civilian life much less overwhelming. She is older, more mature, more worldly than her classmates.
Military life is simpler, she says. “You only have one purpose, and that is to focus on the mission at hand.”
Christy’s current mission is completing her degree. She finished an associate’s degree while in the military. When she and her husband, a military recruiter, moved to Burlington, she looked into several area universities to further her education. UNCG stood out because of its commitment to diversity.
“The diversity in the military is outstanding,” says Christy, who is SVA treasurer. “The diversity at UNCG is excellent as well.”
Christy isn’t alone among veterans choosing UNCG. The university’s military population has doubled since the fall of 2007, despite the fact that the campus is not near any military bases.
“Veterans are coming here and coming here for a reason,” says Dedrick Curtis ’08, ’11 MA, a veteran who worked as the university’s veteran services coordinator.
Military Times Edge Magazine put UNCG on its 2013 Best for Vets list, the only North Carolina public university to make the cut. Victory Media has designated UNCG a Military Friendly School, placing it in the top 20 percent of universities, colleges and trade schools in the nation for veterans services and support.
Connection is key for helping veterans adapt to their new lives on a college campus, he says. “Research shows that, just like any student, the more connected they feel, the better, and that connection has to be felt at a deeper level. Here, it’s not just one or two people pushing everything, its really coming from the entire institution. And that speaks volumes for the UNCG community.”
It’s rarely easy for veterans to transition from the military to the classroom.
“It’s a stark contrast coming out of the military and walking into a classroom full of 18-year-olds,” says Curtis, who speaks from personal experience.
On Nov. 10, 2011, Veterans Day, Chancellor Linda P. Brady established the Military, Veterans and their Families Task Force, a panel focused on improving the university’s support systems for veterans. A year later, it released a report with 24 recommendations, many of which have already been completed or are in progress.
There are now outings for veterans, veterans networking programs, connections with veteran-friendly employers through Career Services, veteran-specific scholarship funds, veterans bridge loans, degree programs tailored to veterans, and programs like Yellow Ribbon and National Roll Call. The list goes on.
Mike Tarrant, UNCG’s director of strategic initiatives, says the administrative support for veterans on campus is simply part of the larger picture, a supportive atmosphere for all students. “UNCG is just known for its welcoming and inclusive environment, whatever the population.”
And, he adds, no one is happier to see veterans on campus than faculty. “Something we hear a lot is that faculty really appreciate having veterans in their classrooms. They tell us that not only do they perform at a higher rate, but they are also good role models for other students and bring more of a global perspective to the classroom.”
And UNCG’s veterans are thriving in the classroom, with a strong graduation rate of 72 percent.
Veterans like David Eskridge, a 25-year-old junior studying business administration. Although he excelled academically in high school, David wasn’t ready for college. So he became a Navy corpsman.
“I wanted to see the world and have a clean break from the lifestyle I was in,” he says. “I wanted to gain discipline.”
David became a medical specialist and was assigned to a Marine engineer battalion building bases and combat outposts in Iraq. The Marines worked just outside towns known to harbor terrorists.
“I remember going to sleep and waking up to hear the prayers booming out of the city,” he says. Guards with machine guns watched for attacks.
After seeing the poverty and violence of places like Iraq, David says his outlook had become a bit darker than that of his young classmates who came to UNCG straight from high school.
But their rosier worldview is something David appreciates. “In some ways, when I was just getting out of the military, some part of me just felt jealous, because I had lost my childishness. It’s nice to be around people who are more carefree.”
Just in time for Veterans Day, UNCG is launching a crowdfunding campaign to support its student veterans. The campaign, UNCG 4 Vets, launches Nov. 8 at http://thespartanproject.