Student Veteran Success Center celebrates grand reopening
Friday, November 12, 2021
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For many student veterans, discussing their shared experiences with fellow soldiers helps them adjust to the life of a college student.
Oklahoma State University’s Student Veteran Success Center has been on campus to help student veterans with anything they may need, but until this summer, it was hard to find.
Previously located in the North Classroom Building on the edge of campus, the center was officially reopened Friday in a ceremony at the Student Union. OSU President Kayse Shrum, Coordinator of Student Veteran Success Vincent Rivera, as well as two OSU students, spoke at the event, highlighting OSU’s sustained commitment to supporting veterans.
Dr. Shrum has a deep connection to the armed forces. Her father, Dennis Donnelly, is a Vietnam veteran, and her paternal grandparents served in World War II. Speaking to a crowd from the Student Union balcony, she gestured toward the 7,068 flags in front of Edmon Low Library representing service members lost in combat since 2001 as a reminder of the sacrifice veterans have made and continue to make.
“I personally find supporting our veterans very near and dear to my heart. I know that freedom, our freedoms that we have, are not free,” Dr. Shrum said. “... Someone paid those prices for us. And I think all we have to do is look across library lawn to be reminded of the importance of that, and what gratitude we all should have that we're here today, celebrating the way that we are.
“Those that didn't lose their life still gave. They gave up their time, their innocence and many things we'll never know. And they did that for people they'll never meet. So we all have a debt of gratitude.”
The Student Veteran Success Center, now located at 061 Student Union, is a dedicated space for veterans to relax, study and build community.
Josh Fisher, a business administration major, served in the Army before attending OSU and said he owes a lot to the center. Fisher, who is working as a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual on top of his studies, met his wife at the center and said it really helped him through a difficult time.
“The Student Veteran Center is a vital piece for the success of the student veterans attending this university,” Spc. Fisher said. “It's a place where we can find resources and meet other veterans. We find camaraderie here.
“Most student veterans are not typical traditional students. We come from serving in the military, we are older and we have a much broader life experience. This can be difficult for some of us to blend into the college lifestyle. Some of us have spouses and children. So we have fuller plates. The center helps us veterans with resources we need to be successful on our journey to a higher education.”
Rivera said without a Student Veteran Success Center, he thinks many veterans would feel lost. He knows he would have if he didn’t have one when he went to college.
After serving in the Marine Corps for 14 years, he decided to go to college. But halfway through his first semester, he felt that he was in the wrong place as he felt he had nothing in common with his fellow students.
“Every time I entered a classroom, I had a fear, a sinking feeling that someone's going to call me out and remind me, this space is reserved for real students,” Gunnery Sgt. Rivera said. “I did not know the term imposter syndrome at the time, but I was suffering from it nonetheless.
“One week, I saw a flyer on campus advertising a meet and greet at the Veterans Center. I did not know at the time, but that table of muffins, pastries and coffee changed my life. I had found a place on campus where I knew I could be myself. Where the experiences of those around me were at the same time vastly different, but almost exactly the same. And I had a support system that I knew would go to bat for me when I was having issues in class.
“This simple fact, knowing these basic tenants, I felt like I could breathe again. I met fellow veterans. They helped me realize I was a student and I belonged to the university. I've never left higher education since.”
Rivera said moving the center to the Student Union has already produced an uptick in visitors seeking help with anything from classwork to financial aid. He thanked OSU leaders for supporting the move and helping to make it a reality: Dr. Jeanette Mendez, interim provost; Dr. Chris Francisco, interim assistant provost; Dr. Johnny Stephens, senior vice president for health affairs; and Lt. Col. Joel Kintsel, an OSU alumnus who serves as the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs.
“We as an OSU family understand, there are some who make it back. But will never leave it behind,” Rivera said. “We are here to ensure that those veterans, whether they are a student or not, have a place where they feel safe.”
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Emerson Newell, who founded the program in high school along with her mother, reached out to President Shrum for support and was surprised by the enthusiastic response.
Newell, a freshman from Shawnee, Oklahoma, said the project had humble beginnings but has grown to a full-scale production that assists veterans in all seven centers throughout the state in Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Lawton, Norman, Sulphur and Talihina.
“It started as an idea to create 10 bags for veterans during the 2018 holiday season,” Newell said. “As my mom started talking about it on social media, people all over the state began donating to this project. It instantly became a state project and the hub of it was in my house.
“It has been a blessing to see our home completely filled with hundreds of bags year after year. In the first year we had enough donations to cover six of the seven VA living centers in Oklahoma. Over 1,500 veterans received a Christmas bag. I learned so much in the first year of this project that we made an effort to get as many students as involved as possible.”
Newell has had help from her friend Ashlyn Oliver and their sorority of Gamma Phi Beta. The bags have drop-off locations in four spots and can be filled with essentials like fleece blankets, pajamas and toiletries. For more information on how to participate, visit https://go.okstate.edu/campaigns/veterans-bag-program.html.
The program runs through Dec. 13.
Fisher voiced his support for the project as a veteran.
“I support this service project because during my time here, I was the commander of the local VFW,” Fisher said. “And while I was the post commander, I worked a lot with older veterans, and I saw the need to continue to work, to try to provide services for those veterans.
“It's important for us not to forget the time that they put in for this country and make sure that they are never forgotten."