AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst has opened its expanded Student Veteran Resource Center in renovated space in Dickinson Hall.
With two rooms instead of one, and more space overall than in its previous site in the Whitmore Administration Building, the center provides a welcoming place for student veterans and active members of the military to gather, study, network, learn and participate in a variety of special programs.
The center, in rooms 18 and 19, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The facilities include computer workstations, study space, a meeting area for individual counseling and a comfortable place to relax between classes.
Services include mentoring, drop-in hours with various on- and off-campus program partners, employment and other workshops, and support for the campus’s two veteran student organizations, VetOne and the Omega Delta Sigma fraternity.
The university has about 480 students receiving veterans’ benefits, including veterans, dependents and spouses. All veterans are welcome at the center, including faculty and staff.
Since 2011, UMass Amherst has repeatedly been designated a “Military Friendly” campus, with a veteran-designated residential community and the first-of-its-kind veterans fraternity.
Enku Gelaye, interim vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life and dean of students, said, “The university has reiterated its commitment to creating an environment that provides ongoing opportunities for the continued success of student veterans both in and out of the classroom.”
Gelaye said the center hopes to expand into other nearby rooms in Dickinson over the next year.
Kelly Gray, assistant dean of students, said the university also is exploring hiring a full-time professional to oversee the center in the fall.
At present, the center’s programs are directed by two graduate assistants, David Vacchi and Matthew Bachman. Both are graduate students in education and both are veterans. Vacchi was formerly commander of the Army ROTC on campus.
Benefit services certification remains in Whitmore under the direction of Judy Gagnon, certification manager.
Helping veterans connect with potential employers is a priority for the center. Working with UMass career services, for example, the center hosted a representative of the Department of State who met with student veterans on Jan. 30 to discuss internships and other employment opportunities.
Vacchi said some issues are straightforward: many student veterans remain active in the Reserves or National Guard and may be called to serve in an emergency at any time. The center can help faculty work with them in such cases.
Also, student veterans often have special academic requirements tied to their benefits, and the center can help with counseling.
Vacchi sees his fellow veterans as one of many groups of non-traditional students on campus.
Most veterans are older – the average age at UMass is 28 – and many have families. All share the unifying cultural experience of the military, he said. They have all been through basic training, highly intense specialized training, and the majority are combat veterans.
A few may be dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
Going from the hard-rules military to a college campus with relatively little structure is a challenge for veterans, who bring “a high standard of expectation with little room for failure,” Vacchi said.
“We have a prime role … to help faculty and staff to better serve the student veteran population,” Vacchi said.