California State University, Long Beach
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Network Supports Veterans

Published: November 3, 2015

Every time veterans see one of the more than 600 VET NET Ally stickers posted in offices around campus, they know this campus cares about them.

“The VET NET Ally program is an awareness program for faculty and staff to educate them and others in the campus community about military service and about student-veterans in general,” said Marshall Thomas, director of Veterans Services at CSULB, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and three-time graduate of CSULB. The program develops a network of faculty, staff and administrators committed to creating a welcoming and supportive campus environment for military service members and veterans that study at CSULB.

The program is a four-hour seminar offered once a semester that profiles the accomplishments and successes of military members and the challenges that some student-veterans may face in their transition to student life.

“At the end of the seminar, everyone who attends receives a decal that says VET NET Ally,” said Thomas. “They can place it in their work space so veterans will know they are supported there. Staff and faculty are putting the decal up to show they are supportive. They share the idea you should be a successful student here.”

One of the biggest challenges faced by CSULB veterans is the cultural shift from the military to civilian life, Thomas believes.

“They must become acclimated to a new world. The military does a great job, whatever the branch, at acculturating people to the service but they do almost nothing to get people to transition back to the civilian world,” he explained. “Student veterans find themselves navigating a bureaucracy different from anything they knew in the military. The vast majority of our student veterans at Cal State Long Beach, well over 90 percent, have come to us from another institution such as a community college.”

Networking is one of the program’s strengths. “The value of networking is true anywhere, but the value of having a network on a college campus is that a member of a campus-wide network will know someone who can help,” said Thomas. “I think that’s really critical.”

The program supports the academic freedom and success of its participants in two ways.

“We encourage faculty to be understanding about why some veterans have difficulty reading such titles as ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’” said Thomas. “But at the same time, we are not trying to limit what the faculty say. All we ask is that whatever is being presented be offered with respect. If you’re going to ask students in an English class to write a dream journal, you’d better be prepared for what you’re going to read. If you are a combat veteran, your experiences may not make pretty stories for someone to read.”

While sharing information through a network is important, there are concerns about privacy.

“One of the first things I do in the seminar is to read a slide on confidentiality,” he said. “My goal is to see the staff and faculty participants walk out of the seminar having gained knowledge, but I don’t want them to single out any one student for having said any particular thing. If a student should ever come to a faculty member and talk to them because they have seen the VET NET decal, whatever they say is confidential.”

Assessment is fundamental to the program’s success and the best assessment of success is word of mouth.

“Friends tell friends they should participate in the seminar. Other campuses invite this program to do the same for them. Universally, people said they would recommend it to their colleagues,” said Thomas. “We know student veterans appreciate the fact that someone is doing this because they come to us and say so.”

Thomas thanks CSULB’s administration for its support. “The level of CSULB President Jane Conoley’s support has pleased me more than anything else,” he said. “Our success as a department and program has really been made possible by a series of presidents who are very supportive of student-veterans.”

VET NET Ally is all about trying to educate people who work on campus to be supportive. There’s no political message in it.

“We are not advocating support of the war or any political choice. All we’re saying is that veterans are a special population of students that deserve our support,” said Thomas. “We have 561 student veterans on our campus. This is a special population that, historically, was not well treated on college campuses. The country and its campuses have done a much better job of being welcoming to veterans in this era than they were a generation ago. VET NET Ally is here to make sure we keep doing it right.”

Those curious for more information about the VET NET Ally Program may e-mail Thomas.