Mason’s Commitment to Veterans Takes Place Year-Round
May 6, 2013
Beginning in fall 2013, student veterans who enroll at George Mason University will have a much easier time qualifying for in-state tuition. As a result of newly passed state legislation and George Mason’s continued support of the ongoing efforts of Gov. Bob McDonnell and members of the General Assembly to make Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in America, any veteran residing within the Commonwealth of Virginia is eligible for in-state tuition for the fall semester.
Mason embraces this new legislation, and through its Office of Military Services has made it a priority to assist veterans, active duty service members, guardsmen, reservists and their families in making a successful transition into the university community. In fact, George Mason has been named by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School for the past four years.
Mason also is an avid supporter of the Yellow Ribbon Education Enhancement Program. This initiative, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, expands higher education funding for service men and women who served after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As a partner, Mason provides up to $10,000 in tuition assistance to qualifying veterans who enroll at the university as graduate students.
“The student veteran population at Mason has grown exponentially, from slightly more than 900 students in 2008 to the current number of more than 2,300 veterans,” says Jennifer Connors, director of the Office of Military Services, who came to Mason after a 14-year Air Force career. “As a result, the university has stepped up its efforts to create an accessible, accommodating and encouraging environment to student veterans who need that extra support to focus on a successful future.”
One-Stop Resource Center
Established in 2009, Mason’s Office of Military Services has become a comprehensive, one-stop resource and support center for veterans who are new to the university. As one of the few schools to have a dedicated staff to help students transition from a military environment to a college life, the office provides services ranging from tuition assistance to psychological counseling to career resources, to name just a few.
One of the unique services offered by the Office of Military Services is the Battle Buddies program. The two-tier program benefits student veterans academically and professionally and aims to help them be successful at Mason and in the transition to a professional environment.
Students who want to learn more about a specific major or minor are paired with an upper-level student in that area. If it’s knowledge of a particular professional field they are after, students are matched with employers, experts and industry leaders in the field, many of whom have prior military experience. Students and their mentors work together to set up an informal meeting schedule that works best for them.
“The Battle Buddies program gave me the opportunity to blend what my personal interests are with my school interests by finding a mentor who had similar ideas,” says Andrew Wofford, a sophomore economics major.
The Military Alliance Program, also offered through the Office of Military Services, has been extremely popular, notes Connors. The goal of the program is to increase faculty and staff awareness and understanding of veteran and active duty students as they return to the classroom during and after military service. After completing a faculty training program, faculty members receive a shield to display that designates them as a “military friendly staff member.”
A Community of Veterans
Veterans at Mason also receive continued support through a plethora of student veteran organizations. One is the Veterans Society of George Mason University in which veterans and their families arrange and participate in activities such as camping, cookouts and community service.
In the same vein, the George Mason University College Veterans for Hire aims to provide all student veterans with coordinated opportunities for social support, networking, leadership development, educational promotion and community service. These activities, notes Walter Sweeney, a sophomore economics major and student veteran, are specifically tailored to student veterans experiences, from collegiate life to employment.
“During my time here at Mason, I have very much felt the common bonds that I share with my fellow students, particularly those who are also a part of the student veteran community. The effort that the university has made to facilitate these bonds, both with fellow student veterans and the broader Mason community, is not only one of the reasons I decided to attend Mason, but has also been a source of fulfillment every day,” says Sweeney, who is president of the Student Veterans Society.
“Being able to participate with the student veteran organizations at Mason has been a significant contributing factor to my success and happiness as a student.”
Scholarship Dollars Go a Long Way
Mason is also supporting its veterans through the recent creation of the Mason Veteran Scholarship Endowment. Imagined by Joshua Lawton, BA ’10 History, the $25,000 endowed scholarship is awarded as a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarship was awarded this year for the first time.
Now into the second year of fundraising, the Office of Military Services has already received numerous donations, including a $25,000 gift from J. Thomas Hennessey, Mason’s former chief of staff in the Office of the President, who had 28 years of military experience.
Growing Numbers Mean Growing Support
With the number of student veterans at Mason growing, the Military Advisory Board was created last year. The board provides the Office of Military Services with industry perspectives, advice and mentorship and focuses on four key areas – recruitment, career/workforce, scholarship and development.
Current board members include Hennessey; Lewis Gordon Sumner Jr., secretary for the Board of Directors for Veterans Moving Forward; M. James Littig, principal and co-founder of Congressional Strategies; Denise Baken, president of Shield Analysis Technology; Jeffrey Engle, a certified emergency manager; and John Munies, senior vice president at CACI International.
“The student veteran population is part of what makes the Mason community as unique and diverse as it is,” says Connors. “Therefore, it’s our continued responsibility to help support these students who have specialized needs, and provide the entire Mason community with an opportunity for mutual learning and growth.”