For military veterans, transitioning to civilian life can be tough. Transitioning from the military to a college campus can be even more daunting.
At the University of Central Florida, the Veterans Academic Resource Center (VARC) eases the way for students who have served their country, providing a one-stop-shop of services to help them succeed.
“From beginning to end, we work with our veterans to make sure their transition is as smooth as possible during their entire time here,” said VARC program coordinator Joshua “JJ” Johnson.
For the roughly 1,500 student-veterans who attend UCF, VARC provides everything from career counseling and tutoring to coffee and social activities.
That support is a key reason UCF has earned a spot on the Military Times’ “Best for Vets” college list, and been named a Military Friendly® School by Victory Media.
“Here at UCF, they do a really good job,” said graduate student Mike Arp, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “They really help student veterans not be a statistic and not fall through the cracks.”
It starts before student-veterans set foot in their first class. Veterans start their UCF orientation in the VARC offices on East Plaza Drive by CFE Arena. There, a team led by assistant registrar Bethany Glassbrenner cuts through the red tape by helping fill out Veterans Administration forms to take advantage of GI Bill educational benefits that can cover tuition and housing. Part of her team is made up of UCF VA work-study students – most of whom are veterans themselves.
VARC, which is run by director Dr. Paul Viau, celebrates its sixth anniversary this month. When it opened in 2010, traffic was sparse. Since then, there’s been an increase in both the number of veterans who attend UCF and the number of services the university offers to support them.
Lorine Cisch-Taylor assists with student veterans’ transfer to UCF, advocates for disabled veterans and provides career counseling.
“The first semester I was here, I had about six people physically come into my office the whole semester,” she said. “Now I see about six a day. We have exponentially increased traffic.”
Within UCF’s student-veteran population for Fall 2016, most have transferred with credits earned from a state college or the military. Some 74 percent are men and 26 percent are women. Eighty percent are undergraduates and 20 percent are graduates. Most – about 90 percent – are Florida residents. Nineteen percent attend regional campuses.
The VARC’s Vet 2 Vet Peer Mentoring Program currently has five peer mentors, who are veterans themselves. Much of their time is spent contacting the nearly 1,500 veterans at UCF multiple times each semester to make sure they’re on track with their academics and making a smooth transition at UCF.
When it comes to academics, student-veterans at UCF have priority registration status so they can sign up for classes early. At VARC, they can find quiet study rooms, tutoring, supplemental academic advising and more.
Vets can also find camaraderie and support from others who have served. They can hang out in the VARC’s lounge, which features a TV, gaming systems, coffeemaker, microwave and refrigerator.
“We connect our veterans with advising, transfer student services, counseling, the registrar’s office – whatever they need,” Johnson said. “We’re all very passionate about what we do.”