UNC Hoping New Orientation Will Help Veterans Transition from Military to College Student

A new program for veterans at UNC, called “Boot Print to Heel Print,” follows a series of other steps the university has taken to support military personnel. This latest program seeks to ease the veteran’s transition to college life, something that Amber Mathwig experienced first hand.

“I made mistakes and I made it hard on myself. And it didn’t necessarily have to be that hard.”

Mathwig is a 10-year United States Navy veteran and UNC’s first student veteran assistance coordinator. She said she uses her personal experiences to guide her in her new position.

“There are parts where I thought I could have done better if I hadn’t been so stubborn and reached out for better resources.”

This has become her mission – to bring resources to incoming student veterans and support their transition into college. Mathwig designed UNC’s “Boot Print to Heel Print” program that will help incoming undergraduate and graduate students with prior military experience acclimate to their new school environment.

“There’s programming we do for the university at large to kind of hit on what everybody needs, but there are specific needs for the student veteran population that we’re trying to address.”

Those specific needs, like understanding GI Bill benefits and finding special counseling services, will be addressed during an orientation next week. The two-day program will include workshops in financial literacy, UNC’s IT system and how to access career services. The students will also participate in team-bonding exercises on UNC’s outdoor challenge course.

“We’re looking at introducing almost 35 veterans to each other right away. And saying here is a community you can reach out to.”

Mathwig said establishing that community early on is key to the students’ success.

“There’s a lot to be said for having a group that supports you and is on the same mission as you are.”

The idea of a mission is a common theme that Mathwig uses when helping students transition out of the military lifestyle and into college. Instead of thinking about the “team’s mission,” Mathwig said, students have to start thinking about their own missions and how to hold themselves responsible.

“When you’re in a university, you have a mission, but it’s an individualized mission and you’re really the only person affected if you don’t reach that goal every day.”

Mathwig said she partnered with other campus resources to give students as many opportunities as possible to build personal and academic skills, foster spiritual and social growth and join clubs or form like-minded communities.

“This is my first year here, and I’m trying to design a program. Everyone that I’ve reached out to to help with the program has been terrific,” Mathwig said. “This would not be possible without the wonderful collaborations of all of our campus partners.”

The undergraduate program is funded by a grant from the Carolina Parents Council, while the graduate and professional student program is funded by the university’s Office of the Dean of Students and The Graduate School. All the programs use feedback from transfer student retention rates and surveys, as well as from other students formerly in the military. This personal feedback is what will make the program successful, Mathwig said.

“One of the great things about veterans, and I’m sure it goes into a lot of other populations, but they want to make things easier for the next person.”

Mathwig said her new role in the university is just another way she can pursue her own mission.

“My position means that I can carry on with the goal I set for myself when I first got out of the military. I wanted to continue serving my population.”

More information about Boot Print to Heel Print can be found here.


Veterans Participate in Academic ‘Boot Camp’

It’s boot camp, but it’s a far ring from Parris Island. 20 military veterans spent last week participating in the Warrior Scholar Project at UNC to help them prepare for college life.

The event ran from June 5 to Saturday June 10. The veterans that attended are preparing to transfer or enroll into 4 year undergraduate programs.

The program aims to help vets with skills like analytical reading, critical thinking and writing by immersing them in all areas of the humanities.

Kyle Piunti is UNC’s senior fellow for Warrior Scholar Project.

“One of the things that veterans have in common here is that they didn’t do as well in their previous academic careers as they will after getting out of the military,” said Piunti.

But it’s no walk in the park. The future students are in workshops from 9am to 10 pm and follow a strict schedule.

Zach Johnson is the program director at UNC and a veteran.

“We immerse them in the humanities, we are talking everything from modern day civil rights history, to classic literature,” said Johnson.

The program is conducted at 11 universities, including UNC. It was started in 2012 at Yale.

Johnson said UNC does a lot to support veterans, including the WSP. He said establishing a veteran’s center on campus would be the next big step to help veterans adapt to college life.

“It would promote positive dialogue, it would help foster relationships of people who might not otherwise meet if they were just walking by each other in the pit,” said Johnson.

Piunti and Johnson both said that the military could also do more to inform veterans about programs that can help them transition into academic life.


Memorial Day Celebrations at American Legion

The veterans and members of the community gathered at the American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill on Monday to commemorate local soldiers who gave their lives in service of their country.

The Memorial Day ceremonies in Chapel Hill began on Saturday, as members of the American Legion, the VFW, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.

Robert Medred, opened a ceremony at the American Legion building on Monday, reminding everyone the reason behind the holiday.

“Today, we remember and honor those active duty military who died in the service of their country during all American wars and conflicts or while on active duty,” said Medred.

The event also featured music, food and showcased artifacts from military history, including papers from the Pearl Harbor attacks and military equipment.

The American Legion is an organization that works to help unite veterans and support military members leaving the service.

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Wreath honoring veterans (Photo by Chris Grunert)

There are 790,000 vets in North Carolina, according to Carolina Demography, which represents about 9.8 percent of the state’s adult population.

Pearl Maynor read the poem, “In Flander’s Field “, a popular military poem in honor of her son. She said even after her son’s passing she still help support the American Legion.

“My faith in God hasn’t weakened one minute, because I know there are many, many more boys and girls out there, fighting for us, for our lives and for our safety,” said Maynor.

Memorial Day began as a dedication day after the Civil War, where graves of soldiers would be honored. The first official Memorial Day was observed in 1971.

The event concluded with a two bell ceremony, a navy tradition, to honor local soldiers who passed away.

Veterans are especially important to our state; North Carolina has the fourth largest military population in the country.

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Military vehicles on display (Photo by Chris Grunert)

The American Legion property is for sale, which has been the focus of recent debate. An offer from Woodfield has been made for the $10 million property. Town residents have voiced concern about development on the property but the town passed on an opportunity to purchase the property.


UNC CORE To Be Offered At Camp Lejeune

Military members at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina looking to further their education now have a new option.

UNC has extended their CORE Certificate Program to give service members a chance to earn their degree.

“That program is really a [UNC] system-wide initiative, but it’s led by [UNC] Chapel Hill. And it’s designed to accelerate higher-education opportunities for active-duty military in North Carolina,” UNC spokesperson Jim Gregory said. “It involves self-paced and summer-based courses that take advantage of what’s already available out there.”

Rob Bruce, director of the Friday Center, said online courses will be taken at the convenience of the service member and are designed to prepare them for entry into a UNC-System school.

“The requirement is 27 hours of credit over the course of two or three years,” Bruce said. “You might have literature courses or physics or math or chemistry and you build the certificate by completing these courses.”

Once the certificate is earned, all credits will transfer to any UNC-System school.

“It really gives military students a strong foundation in general education courses,” he said. “It really sets them up for the ultimate goal, which is for them to be admitted into a degree program and for them to complete their degree.”

UNC CORE is scheduled to accept its first group of certificate enrollees in the fall.


Marathon Jam Returns Saturday

The Chapel Hill Marathon Jam will be held at the American Legion Chapel Hill on Saturday, February 27, 2016, from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Marathon Jam is a non-profit organization that raises money to help injured veterans.

The Marathon Jam gathers musicians and artists of all ages and styles to play music and create art for twelve straight hours, with the musicians generating donations by securing sponsors for each hour they participate in the jam.

In 2016 the Jam began offering programs for first responders as well.

“In eight years we’ve raised over $100,000,” said John Santa, musician and organizer. “All of that money has stayed in North Carolina.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Fisher House at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville.

The Marathon Jam has even expanded beyond Chapel Hill, where it began. Jams have been held across 20 states and three countries, totaling more than $500,000 in donations.

Hear Ron Stutts talk with Santa and Dan Jones


UNC Launches Two Programs to Aid Military Members

UNC announced two initiatives to help veterans navigate the sometimes complicated path into higher education.

Jim Gregory is the Director of Media Relations at UNC, but he is also a veteran of the US military and says announcements like the one made on Wednesday make him very proud.

“When you’re in the military, you’re thinking of ‘What’s the mission? What do I need to be doing to make sure that I’m doing my job?’ but stepping outside of that can be scary,” Gregory says. “This provides two concrete initiatives to help active-duty navigate this higher education process.”

The two initiatives are the hiring of a Student Veteran Assistance Coordinator at Carolina and the launch of a new program – UNC Core.

“That program is really a [UNC] system-wide initiative, but it’s led by [UNC] Chapel Hill. And it’s designed to accelerate higher-education opportunities for active-duty military in North Carolina,” Gregory says. “It involves self-paced and summer-based courses that take advantage of what’s already available out there.

“But it packages it in a way that helps them satisfy their general education requirements.”

Gregory says this is viewed as the first step for veterans who are not able to come to class on campus to complete a four-year degree online.

He adds the newly created position will provide a singular point of contact for veterans who are taking courses.

“That is a position that will report to the Dean of Students. It’ll be filled this summer. They’re looking at candidates now,” Gregory says. “That person will work with others within the dean’s office, around the university, state, [and] local organizations to help veterans navigate the higher education process.

“It’s not always easy to know what’s out there [and] what’s available. And I can speak as a veteran myself, it’s a complex environment.”

The goal of the initiatives is to streamline the communication and accessibility for veterans to migrate into higher education.

The UNC Core program is open to all military members and will be housed in the Friday Center for Continuing Education. More information on that program is available here.

These initiatives are in addition to programs already in place for veterans at UNC including online MBA programs, physician assistant degrees, and the Warrior Scholarship Project.


Price: On VA Scandal, A Long Way Yet To Go

Last Friday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki tendered his resignation amidst a growing scandal involving long wait times—and cover-ups of those wait times—at VA hospitals nationwide.

But will Shinseki’s resignation actually accomplish anything? How adequate is our government’s commitment to our veterans? How high is the quality of treatment in the VA system in general? And what are the next steps, to address what appears to be a widespread problem?

Congressman David Price (D-Chapel Hill) joined Aaron Keck on the Afternoon News this week to discuss the issue.

David Price is a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. Immediately following Shinseki’s resignation, he issued the following statement:

I remain deeply troubled by the irresponsible and unacceptable scheduling practices uncovered by the VA Inspector General’s preliminary report. I respect Secretary Shinseki’s decision to resign and hope it will allow Congress to act on the IG’s complete report, without delay or distraction, to fix the problems and hold those responsible accountable.

I expect the VA’s review to be proactive, not reactive. The VA needs to look at all of its processes, from top to bottom, from the time veterans walk in the door until their treatment is complete, to ensure they are receiving timely, quality care. Obsolete systems and processes need to be identified and replaced, and personnel levels must be commensurate with the needs of our nation’s veteran population. I will work to ensure my subcommittee is a partner in overseeing and funding the effort to meet the needs of a 21st century VA. Anything less would be a disservice to veterans and to the many exemplary VA employees who care for those who have served our country.


U.S. Labor Sec’y: Funds Needed For Unemployed Vets

CHAPEL HILL – The nationwide unemployment rate is slowly dropping but still high, a trend that also applies to specific demographic groups, including America’s veterans.

Now, with budget season already upon us, Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Seth Harris says the Obama administration is calling for more than $350 million in additional federal funding for veterans’ services—including several programs designed to get former service members into jobs.

“(The President is) investing an additional $100 million in the U.S. Department of Labor so that we can help these transitioning service members and veterans and their spouses, and National Guard and Reserve, get into good, reliable, middle-class jobs,” Harris said Wednesday on the WCHL Evening News with Aaron Keck.

The President’s proposal includes an extra $38 million for veterans’ employment representatives across the country; a $5 million increase in the federal Transition Assistance Program for veterans exiting active duty; and perhaps most notably, an extra $50 million for the Workforce Innovation Fund.

“This community faces barriers that a lot of other folks don’t face,” says Harris. “A lot of people in the civilian world don’t know what a military occupational specialty prepares you to do in civilian life…so there are a lot of challenges that this community faces.

“We need new ideas…so we’re going to put that money out there, challenge the workforce investment system and community colleges and other enterprises to get in the game (and) help us figure out these problems–and then we’ll scale them up across the country if they’re successful.”

Of course nothing is certain in Washington, especially with an ongoing budget crunch—but as for the politics of it all, Harris says he’s confident the two parties can at least come together around veterans’ affairs.

“My experience in Washington has been that the partisan divide that’s so prominent right now is often traversed…when it comes to helping veterans and transitioning service members and military families,” he says.

At the end of 2012, the overall unemployment rate for veterans was 7.0 percent, down from 8.3 percent in 2011. For post-9/11 vets, the rate was much higher: 9.9 percent in 2012, down from 12.1 percent the previous year.