SIU Achieves National Recognition for Support to Military Personnel


Photo by Yenitza Melgoza

July 01, 2021

SIU Achieves National Recognition for Support to Military Personnel

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Southern Illinois University Carbondale once again earned national acclaim for its commitment to serving veterans and active-duty military personnel and their families.

The university has been recognized for the 15th year in a row, rising to 34th overall, in the Military Times 2021 Best for Vets: Colleges ranking. The SIU has gained more than 50 places from its 88th place last year. The rankings are based on polls from colleges and universities across the country, as well as public data obtained from the Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the SIU has continued to find ways to serve veterans and members of the military wherever they are, according to Paul Copeland, Coordinator of Veterans Services.

“It’s the little things that we try to do that set the SIU apart from other schools,” Copeland said. “We try to take that extra step wherever we can. “

Long history of help, both on campus and around the world

The university’s service extends to military veterans, active duty personnel and their families. The SIU was one of the first universities in the country to offer degree programs in military installations, starting in 1973 at Scott Air Force Base.

The SIU extended campus offers programs at 27 off-campus sites, including 13 military sites, in 10 different states. In addition, SIU has over 200 majors and minors, and students can take hundreds of courses online.

Copeland said many veterans take advantage of online and off-campus learning opportunities, and some begin their studies while still in the military and then come to campus to earn their degrees. In addition, SIU’s online degree programs provide students with the opportunity to enhance their education and career opportunities by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree while still in the military or working. Through SIU Extended Campus, students can obtain 14 different bachelor’s degrees and 19 master’s degrees 100% online as well.

They are not alone either. Christina Lawrence, Customer Service Specialist / VA Certification Agent for Off-Campus and Online Students, and other staff and advisors work closely with veteran students enrolled in online and off-campus programs to assist them to achieve their educational and professional goals.

“Our staff appreciate veterans and the military for their service and we are always here to help and go the extra mile to help our non-traditional students graduate,” Lawrence said.

Many people fulfill their military obligations and then come to campus to get their degrees as well, Copeland notes.

“The types of degrees we offer, the campus, the location, and the services and amenities are all attractive to veterans,” said Copeland. “We are doing a great job for the veterans. “

He said forestry, recreational therapy, criminal justice (which is also available online on the SIU) and law are among the most popular degrees with veterans. In the spring of 2021 semester, around 450 students on campus were either veterans or current members of the National Guard, with about 300 more enrolled at off-campus sites or in online courses, according to Copeland.

Wide range of services on campus

Students who are members of the Air Force and Army ROTC programs or veterans taking courses on campus can access a wide variety of academic resources and other forms of assistance.

The SIU has an entire wing on the third floor of Woody Hall dedicated to Veterans Services. The full-service veterans center integrates educational benefits as well as support services to help meet academic, engagement and other transition needs.

The center provides advice on financial benefits / aid from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, tutoring, counseling and access to tutoring services, usually free of charge. The center coordinates military service projects and social events for veterans and military families, assists physically disabled vets, and operates an information website.

The office also has a computer room equipped with printers and encryption capabilities to use as needed. In addition, there is a living room with TV, snacks and games where students can relax, a conference room and quiet rooms where veterans can relax by a fireplace while listening to pleasant sounds.

“The fact that we have this space is great,” said Copeland, noting that other universities have used the SIU center as a model for their campuses.

In addition to the ROTC programs, the SIU Student Veterans Organization, a registered student organization, is an official chapter of the Student Veterans of America. The group offers students a chance to socialize with other veterans, write their resumes, and engage in meaningful activities.

The university supports veteran students with activities that also build camaraderie, including hatchbacks for football, volleyball, and baseball games. Although some activities had to be curtailed due to the pandemic, Copeland said his office continued to find ways to provide support and assistance, albeit in a sometimes virtual fashion.

“We are doing a good job for the veterans and the military, and their families, and we are finding a way to do it,” he said.

Extended services

The services and connections provided extend well beyond campus borders, Copeland said. The SIU Touch of Nature environmental center is also a valuable resource, said Copeland, offering a wide variety of programs and outdoor adventures to help veterans make the transition to student life. Veterans, current service members and members of the National Guard / Reserves and ROTC and their families can enjoy a wide range of free outdoor recreational events and activities, including rock climbing, rock climbing, dance, hunt and kayak through the Touch of Nature’s Veteran Adventures program.

In addition, Veterans Services maintains an excellent relationship with the Illinois National Guard, local American Legion and Foreign War Veterans organizations, as well as the Marion VA Medical Center, which also operates a clinic in Carbondale, Copeland said.

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