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MSU Denver’s student-veterans orientation subject of national symposium session

By Cliff Foster

New students who are active military or veterans of the armed forces can have different questions about MSU Denver than their classmates who have not served: How do I tap into the GI Bill and other benefits? What career planning is available to me? Are there support services for veterans on campus?

So, the University last spring and summer piloted a new student orientation tailored for veterans—a program that received national attention last week during the Veteran Symposium for Higher Education at the University of Louisville. It was the subject of a presentation by Braelin Pantel, associate dean of student engagement and wellness, and Denny Boyd, director of new student orientation.

All new MSU Denver students must attend an orientation where they receive information about academic requirements, financial aid, policies, resources and more. But veterans can opt for a daylong session designed to help them transition from the military culture to the University’s culture. The program will be repeated on two dates in May and June prior to the 2013 fall semester.

The orientation started with a presentation of the colors by a high school ROTC students. Specialists were on hand to help the student-veterans with benefit applications. A video delivered the message that student veterans aren’t alone—roughly 1,000 are enrolled at MSU Denver—and it’s OK to ask for help.

Some of the presentations even included the use of familiar language. “When we talk about their academic career one of the terms we use is ‘you’re on a mission to graduation’,” Boyd says.

The orientation was developed in response to a 2011 needs assessment for veterans. Among other things, they wanted to know about programs and services when they enter the University instead of later on in their tenure, Pantel says.

For example, career planning is not part of the standard student orientation. “But because we know our vets tend to be very career focused…and have had career experience though their military service, we wanted to include career-related information in the orientation program from the get-go,” Pantel says.

The symposium was attended by approximately 200 college administrators who work with student-veterans. Pantel and Boyd wanted attendees to walk away with preliminary plans to improve their veterans’ orientation program or to create one. So, they presented six strategies (know the students’ needs; decide what you want them to learn; develop an engaging presentation, etc.) and asked their audience to write down ideas that could work on their campuses.

“We really wanted to set people up so they would use the information and gave them time in the session to write out some of their plans,” Pantel says. Apparently, their approach worked.

“We had many people come up to us after the session and say, ‘thank you so much,’ she says.


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