We love to hear about amazing people doing great things for student Veterans. Recently, we had the privilege of speaking with Lauren Williams, Director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services at Marywood University in Scranton, PA.
Lauren gave us great information on what she is doing for her student Veterans and for her community, and we wanted to share the awesomeness! Here are 5 pearls of wisdoms she shared, which can be useful both to student Veterans and those working at higher education institutions.
1. Get out into the community.
There are tons of community resources for Veterans, but the only way you will know about their utility is to get out and talk to the people involved. Lauren goes out on nights and weekends to Veteran-related events throughout her community, not only to inform those about the education services at Marywood, but also to learn about other external resources that are available in the community for her student Veterans so they can have the best chance of success.
2. Don’t stop just because someone says, “NO.”
With less than 1% of the U.S. population with any military service, you will run into a lot of individuals who have no understanding, knowledge, or even concern for student Veterans. As Veterans, family members and those working for change, we need to be the ones that keep reaching out and fighting for support, resources, and acceptance of student Veterans on campus. Lauren mentioned that she has great support from her administration, but it took many conversations, persistence and outreach to educate those around her on why student Veterans are so valuable.
3. Know where to find the answers.
Lauren told us a story about what she had seen just in the past week concerning lack of knowledge of Veteran resources. She spoke to two Veterans that did not go through any out-processing when exiting the military. While meeting with one of these members she asked, “Are you enrolled at the VA?” and the woman answered, “I’ve been out for 4 years, so I’m no longer eligible.” Luckily for this Veteran, Lauren goes above and beyond her standard duties to make she she is well-versed in Veteran resources, so she is able to educate her students so they can use all the benefits they have earned. By asking the question, Lauren was able to inform this Veteran that she is still eligible for VA healthcare. As a Veteran, it is important to know what your entitlements are, but even more important is having someone who can help you navigate the process, and a person like Lauren is very valuable both to student Veterans and the university that supports them.
4. Always go above and beyond.
Lauren stays connected not only with her local community Veterans resources, but also works with a network of college Veterans Service Officers from across the U.S. Her Veteran Knowledge Community, a group located within NASPA, connects to talk about best practices and how to improve student Veteran services on a wider scale.
5. Make it a family.
Lauren wanted her Veteran Center to not be just an office, but a family organization. She called the students in her responsibility “MY Veterans”. Some even call her “Momma Bear!” Having a safe space for student Veterans is powerful in breaking down any barriers and gaining trust. Lauren knows how to support her student Veterans. She knows those that come to Marywood will get taken care of and goes out of her way to create a comfortable and supportive environment for her students.