A community connected

The 2019 Armistice Day ceremony on the Quad.

Video: Kyle Sidlik; Photos: Nora Lewis

Veterans know all about being part of something bigger than themselves. They understand community and the necessity of connection.

For student veterans, the transition from life in the military to life on campus can complicated—and sometimes isolating.

Balancing classes, coursework, and exams with a home life that may include a spouse and children, a job, and other priorities can leave little time for much else, making it easier for some to blend into the back row of a classroom, absorb the lecture or class discussion, and then go about their day. And, now, of course, there’s COVID-19.

Community Conversations

URI currently enrolls close to 300 military veterans or active military, with approximately 140 military dependents. Those numbers have been steadily growing in recent years, as have the number of veterans involved in the URI Student Veterans Organization.

Recognizing a need, the Student Veterans Organization began hosting “Community Conversations” to help bring together members of the URI military-connected community as they navigate the URI experience. Community Conversations are open to all student veterans, their family members, and active military service members who have questions, concerns, or experiences they want to share. Conversations are via Zoom.

“It gives us the chance to talk and interact with someone outside of our immediate household,  people who are experiencing—or have experienced—a lot of the same things,” said Marland Chang ’21, the organization’s president and a communicative disorders major.

“It’s been a great way to stay connected since we started these sessions at the beginning of COVID back in the spring,” said Joseph Pine ’23, the organization’s social chair, a history and secondary education major. “We’ve had a lot of really good conversations and, you know, sometimes we talk about ‘nothing’—which can also be a nice break from everyday life.”

Student Veteran Mentorship Program

Chang and Pine also serve as mentors to their fellow student veterans as part of a program launched earlier this year by the URI Office of Veteran Affairs and Military Programs

So far, the Student Veteran Mentorship program has connected approximately 60 incoming student veterans and/or their dependents, who are either first-year or transfer students, with a mentor. Mentors can serve as a sounding board and a resource for students who are able to reach out to them on an as-needed basis.

“This is a different environment than what many are used to, and we are here just to give them good information about what to expect, helpful contacts in different departments, where to look for scholarships, how to deal with technology issues,” said Chang. “A lot of what we do is to try to get student veterans comfortable with the uncomfortable—and there is just so much this semester that is uncomfortable.”

Rachel Gracia and Marland Chang
URI’s Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs began a peer-to-peer mentoring program earlier this year.
Student Veterans Organization flag
The Student Veterans Organization hosts “Community Conversations,” bringing together URI military-connected members as they navigate URI.
Nakena Kilgore
At URI today, there are close to 300 veterans or active military, with approximately 140 military dependents.

‘We’re here if you need us’

Rachael Garcia, assistant director of Veteran Affairs and Military Programs at URI, started the mentor program as another way to bring student veterans together.

“It’s peer-to-peer. The goal is to provide a form of connection and a resource,” she said. “Not everyone participates. It is not mandatory. But it is open to our student veterans and their dependents. Essentially, we want this group to know that ‘We’re here if you need us.’”

“Things are especially challenging now with COVID,” said Chang. “But, regardless of whether you are a first-year student or if you have already graduated, I want people to know they still have support and are still connected to URI.”

While an in-person ceremony to celebrate Armistice Day this year was not possible due to COVID-19, the Student Veterans Organization and the Veterans Affairs and Military Programs office are working to develop a video tribute that will feature current student veterans and alumni discussing what Veterans Day means to them.