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Q&A: Ross Bryant on Student Veterans

As the new director of UNLV Veteran Services, Ross Bryant’s job is to help with the transition from the battlefield to a college campus.
People  |  Oct 31, 2012  |  By Afsha Bawany
Ross Bryant, director of UNLV Veteran Services (Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Ross Bryant jokes that he may not relate to student veterans on a techie level, but he has walked in their boots before.

Bryant served 24 years in the Army. At age 23, while an enlisted solider, he entered college with few resources to help him and his comrades adjust to school. Today, he still understands the needs and expectations of student veterans.He is now director of UNLV Veteran Services and program manager for homeland security initiatives at the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies at UNLV.

Bryant has worked on campus for 14 years, first as commander of the Army ROTC and then as deputy director for the Institute for Security Studies. As the new director of UNLV Veteran Services, Bryant's job is to help with the transition from the battlefield to a college campus. Adjusting to civilian life isn't easy, but Bryant is determined to provide resources for student veterans to help them prepare for careers in the private or public sectors.

In early October, UNLV was named a military friendly school for the third straight year by G.I. Jobs, a magazine for military personnel transitioning into civilian life.

How does your office help student veterans?

Many veterans coming back from serving are older than a typical freshman entering college at 18. A student veteran's life experiences, needs, and expectations in an academic setting differ from a traditional student. Sometimes it's hard for student veterans to share their experiences and find a peer group who can understand them. They're used to the military mantra of camaraderie, and it's hard to find that in a new social setting such as college. Whether students are entering school after a long absence or entering for the first time, it's imperative they have a place to go to on campus where they can relate to people who have been in their shoes.

We're here to provide emotional support. Our office helps student veterans understand the processes to get admitted to UNLV, use their GI Bill, and connect them with resources they need to graduate. I'll get calls from potential students from around the country and as far as Guam who want to move here immediately but are unsure about the steps they have to take.

If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?

About 1,100 student veterans and active duty military members attend UNLV. Thousands of veterans will be returning from serving in the military over the next few years. Many of the veterans will use the GI bill to help cover the cost of higher education. Currently, the GI Bill covers the cost of in-state resident tuition, leaving nonresident veterans with out-of-state costs. Plus there are many veterans who are not eligible for the GI Bill but will want to attend school. I'd like to see Nevada embrace a waiver program, much like other states have, so those who have served for our country and continue to serve can attend school here without additional burdens. Let's take down these barriers to help veterans access higher education and achieve their academic and career goals.

What is one tip to succeed?

In life, it's not about how many followers you have; it's about how many leaders you develop.

Proudest moment?

Commissioning students as leaders in UNLV Army ROTC. It was very rewarding to teach young college students leadership skills. I still keep in touch with former cadets, many of whom are serving overseas, and it is amazing to see how much they have progressed.

What is your favorite pastime and what are your hobbies outside of work?

I'm an avid Dallas Cowboys fan. I play Xbox Madden NFL a lot. My wife and I are a part of a local hiking club, so twice a month we go on hikes. I'm passionate about veterans organizations, and I participate in many of them.

What gadget can you live without?

The iPhone and iPad. I just don't want be a slave to them. I'd rather be at the party instead of having my nose buried in my phone.

Who's your hero?

Gen. Scott Smith, former UNLV Institute for Security Studies director, with whom I worked for six years. He stayed with the Army during challenging times after Vietnam and assisted with rebuilding it. He constantly focused on helping people who helped him. He encouraged me to get my project management certificate. He did a lot for the Las Vegas community that a lot of people aren't aware of.

What makes a hero?

Most things you do in life are the things most people don't know about.