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Pitt Student-Veterans Transition to College Life

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In honor of Veterans Day, KDKA Website Intern Gretchen Anderson takes a look at one challenge that some vets face when they return home: making the transition from the service to the classroom.
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By Gretchen Anderson

When Sean Rohrer visited his aunt in Pittsburgh the Thanksgiving before deploying to Afghanistan, he said he loved the city and decided right then he wanted to go to Pitt.

Rohrer, 23, is currently a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh and plans to major in political science. From 2010-2011, Rohrer served in Afghanistan as an Army combat medic.

Rohrer is just one of the student-veterans at the University of Pittsburgh who is meshing back into the civilian life while simultaneously taking classes.

Pitt, which launched its Office of Veterans Services in 2009, has become one of the most military-friendly universities in the country with approximately 521 veterans currently on campus.

Since the opening of the office two years ago, there has been a 108% increase in enrollment, Janet Owens, the outreach coordinator, said. Owens said that Pitt is popular not only because of the location and reputation as a top research institution, but for the services the Office of Veterans Services offers.

The Office has pre-admission appointments for veterans to help them with the application process for applying to college; tips for writing a personal statement, collecting transcripts, and more.

“We are a one-stop shop,” Owens added. “They can come to us at the beginning before they apply and we will help them through graduation, we will be their advocate.”

Owens noted that most colleges help student-veterans through their registrar, but the University of Pittsburgh created a separate office specific for veterans’ needs.

Pitt offers workshops such as the “Post 9/11 GI Bill Changes” workshop, where veterans can learn up to date information regarding the GI Bill.

Another popular workshop is “Boots to Business,” a partnership with BNY Mellon, where veterans can learn what the company is looking for in a new hire.

Junior Dan Johnson, 25, is an Army veteran who still currently serves in Special Forces. He is studying Economics with a minor in French.

Johnson said that his professors at Pitt are excellent and understanding.

“I have to leave once a month on Fridays for drills in Columbus, Ohio,” Johnson said. “And my professors will consider it an excused absence — which is relieving.”

Veterans at Pitt are in class with undergraduates who are not only a few years younger than them, but have entirely different life experiences too.

Johnson said the Army has taught him personal discipline, which translates into him being diligent about homework and getting to class – where he said some students aren’t as responsible.

Eric Speakman is an Air Force veteran and junior at Pitt. Speakman was in the military police and served in Iraq. Speakman, who is from Pittsburgh, came to Pitt because he grew up in the region.

“Sometimes you have absolutely nothing in common with the undergrads, especially in discussion-based classes, where people will complain about things that I think isn’t that big of a deal,” Eric Speakman said.

Currently, Speakman is majoring in Administration of Justice, with hopes to get a federal job after graduation.

“Academics and college are way different from the military,” Rohrer said. “In the Army its: “This is what needs to get done, you have to do it, and okay, now let’s move on.” You definitely complain a lot less.”

Owens said the Office of Veterans Services makes sure veterans have a simpler transition to civilian life with checking that they are taking the right courses and managing their time to stay on track for graduation.

Owens acknowledged the transition can be a challenge.

Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services also offers financial support with the Pitt Grant — which covers the difference of in and out-of-state tuition for undergrad students who are 70-90% eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Pitt has the Yellow Ribbon program, which will cover out-of-state tuition for all programs from undergraduate to Ph.D. if the veterans meet qualifications.

Lastly, the Office of Veterans services offers work-study opportunities, this year employing 35 student veterans and dependents of veterans.

“This way when a veteran walks into the office, it’s veterans talking to veterans,” Owens said.

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