In the Army, there’s a saying: “The most heroic things you’ll do in life, no one will know.”
And as it marks a decade of service, the team at UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center (MVSC) has worked with returning heroes to ensure their transition from military life to college life is as familial as possible.
When the center was founded in 2012, UNLV became one of the first schools in the country to have a dedicated service center for veterans to help them access their military benefits for classes and housing.
But that strong foundation was built upon humble beginnings. The center started as the Student Veteran Organization in 2009, under the leadership of Robert Ackerman, Sally Casper, and Liz Baldizan.
“Every school now has someone processing benefits,” said Ross Bryant, a U.S. Army veteran and executive director of the MVSC. “But what they don’t always have is a center staffed with veterans and military family members where you actually come into this office and feel like you’re part of a family.”
Whatever It Takes
Adapting back into civilian life can be a whirlwind and places like the MVSC help make sense of it. Partners from programs such as Peer Advisors Veteran Education (PAVE), Rebel Vets Organization, VetSuccess, and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) provide guidance for health insurance, mental health, mentorship, and beyond.
“After you leave the military and arrive at a university, it’s daunting,” said Bryant. “So, this becomes a place that you feel comfortable with, has a military feel, and has veterans here to assist, coach, and help you.”
To date, UNLV has helped more than 8,000 military-affiliated students jumpstart their academics. That includes active-duty service members, National Guard, reservists, veterans, and military family members with transferred benefits – with about 1,600 attending classes now.
“I was looking for people I could relate to and make me better at what I plan to do,” said Frank Vizza, a Navy veteran and student at UNLV majoring in social work. “I had heard that UNLV was great for veterans and as I was looking through schools, I noticed that. But honestly, I never expected it to be on the level it was and it was overwhelming how awesome it is.”
And it’s not all talk, either – UNLV’s center earned a ‘Gold-Rank’ for an R1 research institution on the Military Friendly Schools list, and has a 70% graduation rate among the student-veteran population. The accolades don’t stop there, as UNLV student veterans have twice been named the nation’s Student Veteran of the Year by the Student Veterans of America.
The military is in the business of respect, a concept that UNLV holds dear as it’s one of the only campuses to have a memorial honoring the service of the fallen. It has also, in partnership with state and federal elected officials, helped pass laws to save tuition and housing allowances for veterans.
“It’s easy for them to get lost in ten years of history, but these were some amazing accomplishments that we’re very proud to be a part of,” said Bryant.
Notably, the center advocated for the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act, and a Rebel Vet named Reuben D’Silva led the charge in passing the Purple Heart Education Bill.
“I had great mentors in the Army that coached me from Private to Major, and you can never pay those folks back,” said Bryant. “But you can mentor another generation of folks. Ten years later: this center and, more importantly, the graduates are what is fulfilling for me.”