When Brian Bertges and his team received a $5,000 grant from Aurora in 2014, they were ready to implement a faculty training program that would include a designation that would indicate which faculty members had been trained. The student veterans at UMD would then know who they could turn to for assistance with their military-student transitions. It was a great plan until an unexpected extended medical leave pushed the program back and brought the team once again to the drawing board.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though. Rather than training large numbers of faculty members on veteran issues, other team members consisting of Matt Chenworth, Mark Derek Rivera, and Cori Carfagno decided to take a more strategic approach and to train only faculty who were interested in personally mentoring student veterans - selecting to work with those whose career interests lay in their areas of expertise.
This led to the creation of "Veteran Student Life" Mentors - staff members are now paired with veterans; they work together as mentor - protégés, focusing on military-school transitions, re-working resumes, and meeting and networking with corporate connections, as well as building other skills that are helping veterans successfully forge a career in their major.
The team began by intentionally finding mentors who would best suit the veterans' career ambitions. Juniors and seniors were asked to be a part of the pilot program, identifying the areas of interest to these student veterans first. From there, they identified faculty and staff members with both the experience and willingness to be a mentor. To date, 25 students have been paired with mentors.
Next came a program to educate the mentors and introduce their student veteran mentees. The curriculum consists of five lessons:
- Getting acquainted with your mentor/mentee;
- Going through career goals and exploring career possibilities;
- Evaluating where the student veteran is today, what the student's goals are, and what he/she needs to do to achieve those goals;
- Navigating the career field through networking;
- Marketing veterans' skills by refining resumes, practicing interviews, filling out applications together, etc.
The mentor goes through training before being paired with his/her student veteran, but there is no precise manual for the mentee. They are given free reign to ask whatever questions they need from their mentor.
The Veteran Student Life Program began just after spring break 2015 and two sessions have been completed. The success of the program is based on student veteran retention, graduation rates, and employment rates. This program is the first of its kind to use an Aurora grant to not only track veterans' success academically (i.e., through retention and graduation rates), but to also track veterans' success after graduation.
We are pleased to work with the talented and caring team at the University of Maryland, with special thanks to Brian Bertges, Coordinator of Veteran Student Life; Ed Kenny, Associate Director of Development and External Relations; and Matthew Chenworth, Student Affairs Residential Fellow. The Aurora Foundation will continue to engage with them so that we can report on the success of the program and help share the concept with other schools.
Click here to learn more about their program!