Returning from Service: College and IT Careers for Veterans

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[Narrator:] Veterans of the armed services - men and women - are returning to higher education campuses in ever-increasing numbers. Backed by veteran tuition benefits and a clear sense of purpose, these students bring to campus experiences that are a world removed from the average 18-year-old college freshman.
[Robert Etling:] Well, we're older, typically, we're more mature, more focused, we've been in the real world.
[Tameka Lampkin:] I'm kind of grown up now, so I have my own car and I pay my own rent and I have my own finances.
[Alan Carter:] So they're very motivated to succeed, and to do whatever is required to learn, because that's why they're here.
[Narrator:] Behind military veterans is a life dedicated to watching their buddies' backs, following orders, and serving their country. Ahead of them are careers that often derive from their armed forces traing. Robert Etling worked as an Army medic; he's studying to return to the emergency room as a physician's assistant. Tameka Lampkin worked in administrative positions in the Navy. She's earning a degree in public relations. Former Army Corporal Michael Beatty is majoring in mechanical engineering. And veterans Jamesa Epting and James Ervin plan to use their service-related experiences in electronics and computers.
[Jamesa Epting:] My mission was to get everyone's office up and running, run the computer cables, telephone lines, make sure internet is set up for offices.
[James Ervin:] My goal with joing the service was to have the Navy teach me absolutely as much as they could possibly teach me. My recruiter said, "Yeah you want to know about computers, we can teach you computers." So that kind of was the bait that hooked me in.
[Greg Lindvig:] Just about anybody coming back has computer skills, about anybody coming back has computer skills, they have technology skills, whether you're running tanks or you're running a computer lab, you have IT skills.
[Narrator:] One study predicts that careers in information technology will grow three times faster than that of general employment. It's also a very exciting line of work.
[James Ervin:] I'm working with the Microsoft Surface team, and they're developing a new table platform that's multi-touch so that multiple people can use it simultaneously and interact with a computer. And it's breaking technology that's a lot of fun to play with.
[Narrator:] Some veterans are returning with injury-related disabilities. For them, information technology is a field with few limitations. If they return to campus with traumatic brain injuries, hearing or vision loss, or mobility impairments, assistive technologies can open paths to promising careers in computer programming, networking, and systems management.
[Eric Lundblom:] If they get the message out that, "Hey, you guys can do this stuff, we have the ability to train you in the field of computing and IT, and technology, it's something that you guys are more than capable of doing." I think that gives a lot of these veterans hope for continuing education and a goal of achieving a job in that career field in the future.
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[Narrator:] The first step to an IT career may be a successful college experience. to an IT career may be a successful college experience. Supporting student vets, including veterans with disabilities, presents special challenges for college administrators and disability service providers. Understanding veterans' needs and experiences - and knowing how those differ from other students on campus - is critical.
[Pat Shepherd:] I think the most important thing is, first of all, to be welcoming. And, when we talk to veterans, particularly our wounded warriors, their general attitude about this transition is they're afraid. And the reason that they're afraid is that they've come from an environment that they're well trained, and they have their battle buddy, they have their weapon, they have somebody that is protecting their 6 o'clock, you know, watching their back, and this is a new environment.
[David Smith:] I think it takes a special effort to truly outreach to veterans, to let them know that we have programs that are designed for nontraditional students, and that we are here to listen to you, and truly welcome you into our communities.
[Narrator:] Some veterans may be struggling psychologically, or have other invisible injuries.
[Peter Schmidt:] One in five soldiers coming back has an invisible wound. And the invisible wounds would be PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder - mild traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety.
[John Creekmore:] It's changed me a lot because I didn't want to be around people anymore, I used to be really outgoing. I can't have people sitting around me, behind me, I can't be in a large group, I get real nervous, I'll start sweating if I'm, like, in a large group, people surrounding me.
[Narrator:] In class, student veterans may need to relieve anxiety by having space around them, standing up occasionally, or sitting in certain locations.
[John Creekmore:] I try to always be - my back to the wall. I don't like people behind me at all.
[Peter Schmidt:] Most of these vets that have been in combat, they'll probably be sitting by a doorway, they'll probably be sitting by the exit.
[Narrator:] Other service-related injuries involve mobility or sensory impairments. These can include loss of hearing, vision, or limbs. Injuries might also result in chronic pain, nerve damage, and injured bones and joints.
[John Creekmore:] I have a bone spur in my back, degenerative disc disorder, arthritis already, I'm 33.
[Narrator:] It can be challenging to connect veterans with disabilities to campus services that provide accommodations. Veterans are not always willing to request assistance, or even admit that they need it.
[Bea Awoniyi:] Many of these returning vets with disabilities actually don't see themselves as having disabilities.
[John Bechtol:] Going to the disability resource center is a big step for a lot of these young men and women.
[David Smith:] What I like to do on campus is to ask the veterans, "How can we be of assistance to you, how can we help you?" Because a lot of times they're not going to come out and say, "Oh, I need help."
[Narrator:] One way to protect privacy and still reach out is to foster a "vet-friendly" campus.
[Alan Carter:] I would say a vet-friendly campus is one where the people on campus are aware that the vets are coming with a different background. Vets are a separate, diverse group, and they have special needs.
[Tameka Lampkin:] It's just a great, like a great thing to have, that know that there's staff and there's professors and there's administration that supports you all around.
[Narrator:] Some colleges make this effort visible by posting signs; some present vets with their own campus Challenge Coins. In the military, these coins are given to individuals to recognize achievement and accomplishment.
[Peter Schmidt:] What we've done here is we've taken this symbol, military symbol, we've tried to incorporate it then to say to the veteran coming to our campus, "Welcome, thank you for service, and we're glad to have you here."
[Narrator:] Disability service providers can distribute information through student veteran groups. They may also seek advice from veterans themselves, including students, faculty, or staff.
[Bea Awoniyi:] Another way may be, is for those of us who are either in the disability offices or people who are interested in helping this group of students, to seek out our colleagues who are vets. Capitalize on their experiences. Work with those individuals. They've been there before. They've been there, they've done that. They understand exactly what it is, what the transition is all about. How difficult those types of things were for them. So when we engage those individuals, they can help engage other people who are either faculty or staff, so we can all work together.
[Narrator:] On some campuses, the vision is to centralize key veteran services in one location. By visiting a vet center, students can access information about disability services, financial aid, admissions and career counseling, and they can socialize with other veterans on campus.
[Kay Lewis:] Our vision is to develop one comprehensive center that veteran students can come to; they'll get the key services they typically get, which is involving their veteran's benefits and determing what they're eligible for and how much will be paid by their VA benefits or regular financial aid; assistance with admissions and registration; as well as new components such as, just kind of, very tailored academic advising, career counseling, disability resources that are available.
[Narrator:] Off campus, state employment offices such as WorkSource offer support for student veterans. Greg Lindvig is one of those who helps vets get benefits, find jobs, or return to school. He understands their experiences.
[Greg Lindvig:] When I left the service, I had a disability. The VA retrained me through vocation rehabilitation with a degree in accounting from Western Washington University.
[Narrator:] As both students and eventually employees, veterans with disabilities may need assistive technologies. These tools make IT a particularly good career for people with disabilities, and may include keyboards for use with one hand, computers accessible without the use of a mouse or keyboard, and text-to-speech software. For veterans, there are resources to cover the expense of those assistive technologies.
[Greg Lindvig:] The VA can help pay for all those accommodations if it's a disabled veteran. They need a desktop that will go up and down, the VA can pay for that. They need a special chair, or they need a special computer that has a left-handed mouse and needs large screen, the VA can do that.
[Narrator:] In the classroom, course materials that apply principles of universal design make information accessible to all students, including veterans with disabilities. Examples include clear, consistent hand-outs and websites that are designed to be accessible to all users. In the class syllabus, it should be noted that there are services available for anyone with a disability. Disability services staff can work with faculty to understand the needs of student veterans.
[Bea Awoniyi:] We need to work with that from multiple perspectives. One perspective is working with faculty; the other perspective is actually working with students. We need to help students be able to communicate what their needs are, to make sure that instructors understand exactly what it is Last week we had an opportunity to actually bring students that they need. Last week we had an opportunity to actually bring students to serve on a panel, and the students were able to help us understand what some of the challenges were. Have focus groups on campuses, inviting your veterans,
[David Smith:] Ask them what their needs are. Have focus groups on campuses, inviting your veterans, inviting faculty members and staff members, to ask them, "How can we best serve you?"
[Tameka Lampkin:] Keep the positivity and continue to learn about veterans and continue to learn about the things that are going on overseas, because those people are going to soon get out and then they're going to come here.
[Narrator:] To connect student veterans with campus services: Create an open, friendly environment.
[Greg Lindvig:] Every organization needs data administrators, they need web developers, they need the people who can come out and fix the computers.
[Eric Lundblom:] Getting into a new field and being motivated and having the right people to motivate them in an IT field is a great thing.
[Robert Etling:] Go for it. if you're interested in it, give it a try. If you think you can do it,
[John Bechtol:] I'm going if you're interested in it, give it a try. [Applause:]
[John Bechtol:] I'm going to do what it takes to help them succeed. That's my mission. That's my goal. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get that student their diploma and continue on with the rest of their life. Because I owe them that, because I appreciate their service, and I think their country owes them that.