Paving the Way for Student Veteran Success

In the military, everything is about being part of a team. You’re working with your fellow service members all day, every day, and you know that they’ll have your back no matter what. But when you leave the military, all the trust and camaraderie of that 24/7 team culture just disappears. Transitioning back to civilian life in general can be challenging. Navigating the complexities of a college campus makes it even harder.

That’s where PAVE comes in. Peer Advisors for Veterans Education (PAVE) is a peer support program that connects incoming student veterans with student veterans already on campus in order to help them navigate college life, refer them to resources, and provide ongoing support. The same team culture that helped student veterans thrive in the military is used to support their success on campus.

Developed by the University of Michigan and the Student Veterans of America, and with support from funders including Bristol-Myers Squibb, The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and Major League Baseball Charities, PAVE is a national network of 42 universities with a proven track record of helping their student veterans succeed. The program was piloted with just 12 institutions and recently expanded in Fall 2016 to an additional 30 institutions, including UW Tacoma. The expansion was so popular that more than 100 universities applied and most are still on a waiting list to participate. The program is a natural fit for UW Tacoma: because of our close proximity to Joint Base Lewis–McChord, nearly 10% of our students are veterans and another 10% are military-affiliated spouses and family members.

The program’s structure is simple: each campus has a team leader (like myself), a veteran services coordinator, and a university champion. The team leader facilitates matching incoming students with existing student veterans in their field of study. We try to have as many disciplines as possible represented, so that we can match students with peers who have similar interests and career goals.  Each peer advisor meets with their students one-on-one to discuss the student’s unmet needs, identify individuals on campus who can help, and connect the student to resources directly through a “warm handoff.” After each interaction, we collect and log data on student issues that will help us plan for future resource needs.

So what do veteran students need most to succeed?  Since we started the program, most of the issues we’ve logged pertain to academic support and financial aid. We’re also prepared to help students with a much wider variety of challenges, including health care and family services. Even though the program was just launched in fall 2016, we’re already identifying issues that we didn’t know existed before, and seeing positive results with the students we’ve helped.

As a student veteran who has made the transition to higher education, I know the difficulties of separating the military and navigating a college campus. The PAVE program allows me to share my experiences with fellow veterans and help ease a potentially daunting transition process.

The program is low-cost, sustainable, and relatively easy to implement. PAVE provides all team leaders with a $1,500 stipend during the first semester, which the university is encouraged to sustain going forward. We’re also working on providing each peer advisor with a $500 scholarship from sponsorship funding. But the greatest benefit of collaboration with PAVE is the support of its national network. PAVE provides a fully-developed, online platform – refined during the initial 2-year pilot with 12 institutions – which helps each peer advisor communicate with their assigned group of new student veterans, log interactions, and track issues that were discussed. We also received a toolkit of resources and best practices when we signed on, and participated in a summer training program with the other new PAVE member institutions. There are regular conference calls and trainings, and we know that if we run into any issues, we can call up folks at any one of the other 41 institutions to get ideas. It’s exactly that team culture and spirit of collaboration that makes the program so successful, and allows us to help so many student veterans thrive on campus.

aflanaganAndrew Flanagan is the Team Leader for PAVE on the UW Tacoma campus. Born in Portland Oregon, Andrew’s family relocated to Lacey, Washington. After completing high school Andrew enlisted in the United States Air Force to become an aviation maintenance technician on the KC-135 aircraft. Stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, Andrew deployed 3 times with the KC-135 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Andrew spent these deployments in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Andrew separated the Air Force in 2014 and made his transition to higher education. Currently a senior, Andrew is studying law and policy and hopes to continue his education pursuing a graduate degree.

USU would like to recognize other member institutions participating in PAVE: the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Colorado Denver, Rutgers University, and Georgia State University. To learn more about joining PAVE visit paveoncampus.org

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