Veterans at Montclair State: An Opportunity and a Need

Photo: Mike Peters

Taking a break from Veteran's Day activities are, from left, Denise Rodak, coordinator of Veteran and Military Resources, and student veterans Rosalie Martinsen, Maria Duran, James Cardinale, and David Gisonno.

On August 1, 2009, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill became law, and men and women who had served in the U.S. military on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001, would have the opportunity to go to college and have the U.S. government help with the costs. Montclair State recognized this legislation would create an opportunity for these men and women to pursue their academic and professional goals and that they would need an academic institution at which to do it.

So, nearly a year before the bill took effect, Karen Pennington, vice president for Student Development and Campus Life, put together a task force to study what would be required to make Montclair State a leader in veteran education. The task force realized that the University needed a point person to coordinate the services for veterans so, to that end, the Office of Veteran and Military Resources was created and the Center for Academic Advising and Adult Learning’s Denise Rodak was appointed as the coordinator.

Created in March 2009, the Office of Veteran and Military Resources is part of the Center for Academic Advising and Adult Learning, and works with various campus partners to provide a centralized approach to the availability of services, and serves as the “home base” for veteran and military students. In addition to advising the more than 140 undergraduate student-veterans, Rodak partners with various government and campus resources to help veterans transition into higher education and works to raise awareness of veteran issues on campus.

It’s an approach that is working. Not only are more military and veteran students enrolling at Montclair State, but good things are happening with the program. Some examples include:

  • The New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities announced that Montclair State was among the nine state colleges and universities that were collectively awarded a $100,000 ACE/Wal-Mart “Success for Veterans” grant—one of only 20 such grants awarded nationwide. The funding was used to establish Operation College Promise, a collaborative effort created to enhance and expand higher education programs and services for veterans.
  • Montclair State and Operation College Promise co-sponsored a performance of Into the Fire, a theatrical performance about returning veterans with disabilities and combat-related trauma, and their stories as they assimilate into their families, communities, educational institutions, and the workforce.
  • Montclair State entered into an agreement with the United States Veterans Association to become a Yellow Ribbon Institution, enabling the University to arrange for financial assistance for even more eligible student-veterans.
  • A Web site for the Office of Veteran and Military Resources was launched.
  • A new student orientation, specifically for veteran and military students, was created.

Rodak also advises the Montclair State Veterans Association, which was resurrected and rechartered as a class III Student Government Association organization. In November 2009, the Veterans Association and the Office of Veteran and Military Resources held their inaugural Veteran and Military Student Recognition Week, a week of activities to recognize the veteran and military students on campus. >

The week included flag ceremonies carried out by the United States Marine Corps and Army ROTC cadets, and a visit to the Ben Samuels Children’s Center by the cadets. On Veterans Day, a campus-wide event was held in the Student Center Quad. The University community was invited to donate care package items for service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, make cards, check out the inside of an Army National Guard HUMVEE, and test their strength on the chin-up bar provided by the United States Marine Corps. The day was a big success with many people participating, and enough care package items were collected to fill six large boxes.

These and other efforts by the Office of Veteran and Military Resources have not gone unnoticed. Montclair State University has been named one of the top military-friendly schools for 2010 by G.I. Jobs magazine. The designation put the University among the top 15 percent in the nation of colleges, universities, and trade schools doing the most to serve our veteran and military students.

Information about the Office of Veteran and Military Resources is available on their Web site at montclair.edu/veterans or on Facebook at facebook.com/MontclairStateUniversityVeteransAssociation.