Grand Valley State University is often promoted as a safety-conscious university, and with the number of military veterans on campus rising over the past three years, it’s likely to stay that way.
Since the Veterans Network began tracking the number of veterans attending GVSU in 2009, the numbers have steadily risen, with almost 400 veterans attending the university during the Winter semester of 2011, said Steven Lipnicki, assistant dean of students. That number is expected to grow to about 450 this semester.
Lipnicki cited the post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill of 2009, among other factors, as crucial in bringing veterans of the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts to GVSU after their tours of duty.
“My gut feeling is that a number of people are going to keep coming back, and it’s pretty logical that if they’re eligible for funding, which the new G.I. Bill gives them, they will think of us in a favorable way,” Lipnicki said. “We are getting a reputation out there for being more military friendly.”
GVSU was recognized as a top military-friendly college and university by Military Advanced Education in 2010 and by GIjobs.com in 2010 and 2011.
The G.I. bill provides student veterans with a stipend of about $1,000 a month and between $500-$1,000 per year for books and supplies.
The Student Veterans Organization at GVSU, headed by President Eric Cederholm, has also been helping to welcome veterans to campus and provide answers to challenging questions. The organization is made up almost entirely of military veterans.
Cederholm, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 2005 to 2009 while primarily stationed in the Republic of Djibouti, a small country in the Horn of Africa, came back to GVSU and quickly became involved with the organization after receiving an email invitation. He initially had attended GVSU between 2003-05, but the incentives offered by the university made it an easy choice to come back to.
“Grand Valley has a lot of resources geared specifically for veterans,” Cederholm said. “When you register for classes now, you can select if you are a vet. That’s fantastic. They have their own veterans page and have multiple offices with people willing to help you.”
The SVO on campus is also affiliated with the larger group, Student Veterans of America, which has also helped provide resources and answers for veterans at GVSU.
“It’s really conducive for support and people really band together,” Cederholm said. “Grand Valley has certain experts in the fields that are supportive of us.”
Since 2007, GVSU has also made a concerted effort to document and record the interviews of veterans in the West Michigan area, as well as on campus. Led by James Smither, the GVSU Veterans History Project has worked with several faculty and student volunteers to preserve and store veterans experiences.
Smither is optimistic that the rising number of student veterans will be willing to share their testimony sometime in the near future, especially once they know that they will not be called back into service for another tour of duty.
“We’re very interested in interviewing student veterans when we can,” Smither said. “The catch is that most of them are not quite ready to share their stories yet.”
While the initial goal of the project was to catch up with veterans from World War II and beyond, recently the project has been focusing more on the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Smither is hoping that the rising numbers will influence a greater desire for new student veterans to share their unique accounts.
“What I’d really like to do is interview more student veterans, so I encourage any veterans who are interested in adding to the project to get in touch with me,” he said.
After a successful veteran’s kickoff event on Aug. 18, the Veterans Network, in conjunction with an estimated 30 GVSU departments and agencies, will look to help answer any and all questions by veterans at the second-annual Veterans Resource Fair on Sept. 20.
There will also be booths for both the Veterans Network and Student Veterans Organization at Campus Life Night on Tuesday.