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Mentors Begin Role to Assist Fellow Vets on Campus

Veteran mentor Chelsea Valente, left, and staff member Aaron Nooney, center, talk with student veteran Chuck MillsonVeteran mentor Chelsea Valente, left, and staff member Aaron Nooney, right, talk with student veteran Chuck Millson.

Student veterans looking for assistance or just a fellow veteran to talk to now have some new allies on the Hudson Valley campus.

As of the spring 2013 semester, the Center for Academic Engagement (CAE) is the home of two “veteran mentors,” students Chelsea Valente and Michael Ray. The duo’s task is to serve as peer liaisons for fellow veterans on campus, helping them navigate the benefit process, assisting them with finding academic support or just welcoming them to the veteran community at Hudson Valley. The work study program is funded through the federal Veterans Administration.

“Our main goal right now is to let people know that they are here on campus, to spread the word among students and faculty,” said College Success Specialist Aaron Nooney, who works with the mentors in the CAE.

Since the beginning of the semester, the mentors have been making personal calls to students using veteran benefits, a task that is time consuming but beneficial to building a stronger network of student veterans. Vets continue to have a strong sense of kinship when they transition out of the military, and in some cases, they can find that kinship again on campus with fellow veterans. “I think that’s one of our roles,” said Valente. “We are here to connect them with support services and dealing with the benefits side, but a lot of veterans miss just that sense of camaraderie.”

The mentor program is the latest college effort that aims to provide a welcoming atmosphere for student veterans. It follows the recent opening of the Armed Forces Study Room – a dedicated library study space for student veterans – and increased engagement by the Armed Forces Club on campus.

In the fall, the college hosted an Instant Admission Day dedicated for prospective students who are veterans or family members of vets, and for the past two years, the college library has hosted a Veteran’s Day exhibit honoring current students, faculty and staff members who have a personal or family connection to the military.

In addition, the college’s Committee on Military and Veteran Affairs, which includes a wide cross section of faculty and staff members, meets each month to discuss new ways to serve this growing population of students.

Recent studies have shown that colleges need to provide a strong but flexible support system if they want to retain student veterans. More than 350 current Hudson Valley students receive VA benefits to further their education.

The mentors represent a good cross section of the veteran population here on campus. Ray, who is in the Computer Information Systems program, served as a US Army Ranger from 1979 through 1992. Valente’s tour of duty in the Marines was from 2007 to 2011, and she also is in the Computer Information Systems program.

“We have the right people for the job, and it’s exciting to see them take this on,” said Nooney.

A veteran mentor is available in the CAE, second floor of the Campus Center, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Monday through Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Armed Forces Study Room, second floor of the Marvin Library Learning Commons.