Transitioning to college life is rarely easy, and certain things inevitably make it more difficult. Navigating admission and course policies. Finding a community. Re-learning how to be a civilian.

Enter the LSU Veteran & Military Student Services Center.

“The first two years [at LSU], because the center didn’t exist, each semester I contemplated going to another school,” shared Adam Herpin. “Since the center opened, I’ve had a place to go, and the support system has made it much easier for me to be a student.”

Herpin, who served in the Coast Guard for four years, said that, upon enrollment at LSU, “the LSU system didn’t seem able to accommodate veterans that well. The infrastructure wasn’t built that way. I had to find loopholes.”

Once the center opened, issues that typically took Herpin weeks to resolve were rectified within a day by the center’s coordinator.

LSU service men and women present the colors while the national anthem is played at LSU Salutes. Photo by Eddy Perez
LSU service men and women present the colors while the national anthem is played at LSU Salutes. Photo by Eddy Perez

The center also provides computers and career-building tools, essential resources to students like Lorena Zepeda, a business management senior who has served since 2004. “Most of us have families already,” she said. “We’re not straight out of high school. It’s tough going back to school when you also have financial responsibilities at home.”

Herpin said one of the most valuable resources is the sense of community the center provides. “A lot of veterans have a hard time connecting with the other students when they come in. This is the biggest reason I came.”

The benefits stemming from the Veteran & Military Student Services Center reach beyond LSU’s military population, though. Darrell Ray, assistant vice chancellor for student life, and Adam Jennings, coordinator of Veteran & Military Student Services, explain that the center provides an opportunity to connect the campus to its military foundation and educate the rest of LSU on the university’s role in shaping U.S. military history.

It is also an attractive benefit to prospective students. “Every university has veterans enrolled,” Ray said. “It becomes more important for the institution to support the students, because they have different experiences and may have different adjustment issues.”

Jennings, who spent four years in the Army, shared that an increased veteran and military student population also increases campus diversity. “Because of the experiences veterans have had, they can bring a global perspective to the classroom.”

The center supports 20-40 students each day through admissions assistance, outreach and support services that Jennings and five work-study participants provide. Jennings and Ray aim to build an endowment that will support an enhanced infrastructure and provide financial assistance to the veterans.

Jennings shared that financial assistance for the students is also needed because the GI Bill benefits are often not enough. “Most of them are transfer students and nontraditional students. Many students exhaust GI Bill benefits before they get here.”

A service that began two years ago has now become a second home to LSU’s warriors, and will only increase its benefits, Ray shared. “We’re now in a position to grow what we do.”

Published in Cornerstone Winter and Spring 2015.

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