Veteran- and Military-Ready Programs at UW Tacoma

Main page content

What makes UW Tacoma "military friendly?" Read more about some of the opportunities and programs available to student veterans, active-duty military and dependents.
Bruce Metzger, veterans coordinator and certifying official, says, “We are, without a doubt, a military friendly campus in the truest sense.” What about UW Tacoma makes it military friendly?More than 14 percent of UW Tacoma’s student body is veterans, active-duty military, spouses or dependents. That number is bound to increase with the military draw-down, as forces return to the bases in the area from the Middle East. 
 
As this population on campus grows, UW Tacoma’s veteran and military services are expanding along with it.
 
“The veterans community is unique, in that they are just as nontraditional, nontraditional, nontraditional as you can get,” says Victor Flores, associate director of student support programs. Veterans tend to be older, married, parents or even grandparents, and seeking a career path. 
 
The question, as Flores sees it, is, “How do we make sure that we’re well-prepared to support (these) students personally, academically and in their career trajectories?”
 
Bruce Metzger, veterans coordinator and certifying official, says, “We are, without a doubt, a military friendly campus in the truest sense.” What about UW Tacoma makes it military friendly? “It’s not just one thing; it’s all of the outreach,” he says.
 
What kind of outreach? 
 
Several of the opportunities and services for veterans, military, and dependents on campus are detailed below. But these services are only a fraction of the work done at UW Tacoma to make the school “military friendly.”
 
Office of Veteran and Military Services
 
The first thing you notice when you walk into the Office of Veteran and Military Services, on the second floor of the Mattress Factory, is how friendly everyone is. “We’re very welcoming,” says Wanda Curtis, Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) Representative and Veterans Benefits Advisor. 
 
The UW Tacoma office has grown in recent years, in large part due to the drive of former Chancellor Debra Friedman. Its staff works to help veterans with registration, benefits and transition into civilian life. 
 
As part of the office, Metzger helps veterans and their family members navigate the complex paperwork of military benefits, residence waivers and more. Jesse Schweizer, the Veterans Corps Navigator, helps veterans transition into civilian life from the standpoint of a peer – Schweizer is a veteran himself. Curtis splits her time between UW Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). While on the base, she represents all public colleges and universities in the state (not just UW Tacoma), helping transitioning military get a better sense of what colleges are available to them, and what might be the best fit. While on campus, Curtis advises veterans at UW Tacoma on the benefits available to them.
 
Many of these services are fairly new to UW Tacoma. Schweizer’s position was completely new last year. “These are all-new avenues and vistas that we’re going down,” says Metzger.
 
 
Academic Programs
 
While veterans are in all of UW Tacoma's academic programs, there are particular courses of study especially designed to be a good fit for returning service members.“We have veterans in every program,” says Metzger. Veterans take all sorts of classes, but there are some new programs on campus specifically designed to educate transitioning veterans.
 
The criminal justice B.A. was envisioned as a potential course of study for veterans. In the military as in criminal justice work, people must be aware of their surroundings, protect public safety and maintain order. The UW Tacoma criminal justice program has a special emphasis on social justice. Students are encouraged to look at alternatives to punitive measures like incarceration, considering long-term healing and change. This fall also marks the first class of the all-online criminal justice degree
 
Many veterans, Metzger notes, are drawn to the Institute of Technology. In particular, UW Tacoma’s Master of Cybersecurity and Leadership program was designed to educate veterans, with curriculum developed in collaboration with the Washington National Guard cybersecurity unit at Camp Murray. The program, through a collaboration with Milgard School of Business, uniquely combines classes in the technology of cybersecurity with courses in the business leadership skills necessary to implement change. Learn more about the program in the recent article “A New Kind of Homeland Security.”
 
Master of Cybersecurity and Leadership students at their hooding ceremony in 2014.The physician assistant training program offered by MEDEX Northwest was expanded to Tacoma last year. Half of the initial class came from military medical occupations. This program builds on their military experience, translating it into the civilian healthcare world. 
 
Several programs put on by the KeyBank Professional Development Center are also popular with veterans, including the Six Sigma courses in project management and efficiency improvement.
 
Many other units, professors and classes are geared toward veterans; this is just a small sampling of the opportunities available. For example, Nursing and Healthcare Leadership welcome many former medics, and the Nursing program offers the military-orientated Double Eagle Scholarship. 
 
 
Student Veteran Organization
 
Paul Hanson went back to school just a few months after he got back from Afghanistan in 2013. “I was ready to move on with my next step of life,” he says.
 
But within the first week of classes at a local community college, he felt the culture clash of returning to civilian life in a big way.
 
In an English class, Hanson’s first assignment was to write a one-page essay about a life-changing event, then read it to the class. He wrote about his first time being shelled by mortars.
 
While over 600 students on campus are veterans, military or dependents, they can still feel a culture clash when they return to civilian life. The Student Veteran Organiation aims to help veterans and their families with this transition.Hanson says this memory “is a very normal story, from the culture I was coming from.” But in a community college classroom, with many Running Start students, “it terrified the class,” he says. The next student had to be roped into reading his paper aloud; he had written about being grounded for two weeks.
 
Cultural misunderstandings like these, Hanson says, “made me start feeling very isolated. … I didn’t feel that I belonged where I was.”  So Hanson sought out the student veterans group at the community college he attended. “It wasn’t counseling or anything, but it was being around people who have relative or similar experiences, to where it’s not as judgmental to be around (them),” he says. When he got to UW Tacoma, he joined the campus’s newly-expanded Student Veteran Organization (SVO) for similar support.
 
SVO is primarily a social organization for veterans and active-duty military and their families. It’s a chapter of the national Student Veterans of America, which has representation on more than 1,200 campuses across North America. The group is also welcoming of military spouses and dependents, who themselves have had distinct experiences, ones that aren’t necessarily common to the rest of the UW Tacoma student population. 
 
SVO has been revived in recent years, thanks in large part to Schweizer. Hanson is now the organization’s president. This year, it is taking on some outreach projects in addition to weekly lunchtime meetings. The group is getting involved with other veteran resources, like VIBE, and members will be cooking hotdogs as part of Veterans Appreciation Week. The group is also putting on a sock drive in November, collecting socks for homeless veterans. If they reach their goal of 300 socks, Hanson says he’ll shave his beard.
 
Hanson says that once veterans get out of the military, there’s often a drive to disassociate. “I’m not ‘voluntelling’ anyone to do anything.” But he hopes the Student Veterans Organization can be a resource to others as they run into the cultural difficulties of transitioning to civilian life, like he did. “It’s really more of a social thing. It’s not another burden.”
 
Learn more about the Student Veteran Organization on its website or Facebook page.  
 
VIBE
 
Part of the Learning and Research Commons on the third floor of the Tioga Library Building, the Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship, better-known as VIBE, provides resources for veterans looking to start their own businesses. 
 
VIBE officially opened just under a year ago, on November 14, 2013. The center helps student veterans as they seek to start or grow their businesses, providing resources for developing concepts, a workspace, financial know-how, and other skills needed for entrepreneurship. It acts as a space for collaboration and mentorship. 
 
Students work together, sharing knowledge from their backgrounds and disciplines. Last year, a student in the Milgard School of Business MBA program worked with a student in the Institute of Technology, trading financial information for computer science knowledge. 
 
Mentors from the local business community and successful entrepreneurs also work with students. Phillip Potter, director of VIBE, says, “Mentors really enjoy working with veterans.” He says the veterans involved in VIBE tend to be very teachable, and “naturally team oriented.”
 
In its first year, VIBE has received national attention. Potter has been invited to the White House twice, and has been invited to participate in working groups and think tanks. Several students were also competitively selected to attend a workshop at Goldman Sachs. VIBE’s relationships with JBLM and Camp Murray continue to strengthen, and Potter is grateful to military leaders there for pointing veterans toward VIBE. “They’re feeding us some really great talent,” he says.
 
In the coming year, several student projects are percolating within VIBE, relating to the environment, software and tech services. The incubator is also considering putting on a business plan competition specifically for veterans.
 
Potter says in his first year, he’s learned, “Veterans are surprisingly good entrepreneurs, everything we thought they were, they are, and then some.”
 
Many veterans plan to stay in the South Sound after graduation. But often, veterans struggle to translate their skills to the civilian sector and find jobs. VIBE seeks to give them the educational foundation to become strong entrepreneurs in the community. 
 
“What we really do is not so much incubating businesses – that’s kind of a misnomer. We’re incubating entrepreneurs,” says Potter. 
 
To get involved in VIBE, see the VIBE website.
 
Participants at the October 2014 Views on the Pacific event discussed the impacts and effectiveness of humanitarian aid in the Pacific Rim.Views on the Pacific
 
In 2013 UW Tacoma launched the Views on the Pacific symposium series, focusing on the “strategic rebalance” of national policy to focus on the Pacific Rim and its “whole of government” method for stability. The third installment in the series occurred this October, specifically looking at humanitarian aid and regional stability. The event, on Oct. 21, featured the deputy consul general of the Philippine Consulate General, Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza from JBLM, and others. 
 
Watch the 2013 event here.
 
Fisher House
 
Military families traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM who want to stay at nearby Fisher House can submit their applications online thanks to a team of UW Tacoma students. As a class project, students in Andrew Fry’s “Managing Technical Teams” course designed and built an online form and database that House staff say vastly improves their ability to serve those families.
 
Section: 
Written by: 
Abby Rhinehart / October 30, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Media Relations, 253-692-4536, johnbjr@uw.edu