Making the transition from veteran to student

Colleen Schonfield

Making the transition from spending months, sometimes years, serving in the military to pursuing a college education is a lifestyle adjustment that has its own set of challenges. However, despite the challenges, student veterans are completing college at a higher rate than other nontraditional students.

To aid in the process, Grand Valley State University has adopted the Peer Advisors for Veterans Education program which connects incoming student veterans with student veterans who are already on campus.

Matthew Oudbier, a GVSU sophomore studying philosophy, served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps and now works as a Peer Advisor Lead [PAL] managing the PAVE program on campus. He said the goal of the program is for advisers to assist new student veterans with navigating college life, helping to identify any challenges a student veteran may be facing and refer them to resources on or off campus.

“It’s important that veterans are able to connect with the campus and with other students,” Oudbier said. “There is such a difference between a veteran and a traditional student.”

Through collaboration between the University of Michigan Depression Center & Department of Psychiatry and the Student Veterans of America, the PAVE program has grown and expanded to other universities around the country. The program was introduced to GVSU in January.

Timothy Nellett, PAVE outreach coordinator, said that such a program as this helps student veterans to know that they can always count on someone and have a place to turn to whenever they need support.

“No one knows more about the issues facing a veteran – in combat or on campus – than a fellow veteran,” Nellett said. “New students can get their questions answered by another student who has been there without feeling that there is something wrong with them if they don’t have all the answers.”

The PAVE program acts as a stress-reliever for student veterans entering college in that it helps build connections between those who share similar experiences that are associated educationally and militarily.

Nellet’s interest in the PAVE program stemmed from his undergraduate years, where he said PAVE helped him by providing the necessary support that many student veterans need.

“I wanted to help out the person coming to college after me, and let them know that they don’t have to go through the transition alone,” he said. “PAVE is a lot like how the military is set up: you work as a team to accomplish a mission. Many of us miss that group camaraderie, and the support that came with it. PAVE allowed me to provide that support once again.”

Nearly 40 student veterans enrolled in classes at GVSU this winter semester, and Oudbier predicts there will be even more at the start of the fall semester. Currently, there are about five advisers who are each assigned between 10 and 15 student veterans.

As this is the first semester for the program at GVSU, Oudbier and other PAVE advisers hope that some of the student veterans who have found the program to be a real benefit would want to return the favor by becoming peer advisers themselves for the next semester of new student veterans.

“All the PAVE peer advisers at GVSU really strive to create a community where all student veterans can feel they belong,” Nellett said. “We believe being a part of PAVE will benefit GVSU’s veterans by helping answer all their questions, make lasting friendships, get connected to campus services and have a great college experience.”

Those interested in volunteering can visit or contact Oudbier at [email protected] for more information. Prospective volunteers must be currently enrolled at GVSU and must be a veteran.

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