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UofM recognized as military-friendly, offering safe space for veterans

Victory Media has named The University of Memphis the ninth most military-friendly university in the country, a list the university has been a part of for five consecutive years now.

The recognition was a result from the combined efforts of both the UofM administration and the Veterans and Military Student Services Center. Sometimes life-changing, the office provides services and opportunities for veterans and military-involved students in a safe space on the second floor of the UC.

"It's huge," said Marcallina James, better known as M.J. "When I first took this role, my goal was for the UofM to be in the top 10. Research really helped set the precedent for us."

James is the Veterans and Military Student Services Center's coordinator at the UofM. As a Navy veteran herself, she recognizes, researches and combats the struggles of military veterans now attending college.

The Veterans and Military Student Services Center provides academic, technological and financial help to military-involved students but also focuses on core issues that come with returning to the civilian culture. One of these issues is isolation, according to James.

"One of the biggest things for our veterans is a feeling of isolation," James said. "We get a late start. We're not traditional students and have left the military where we felt like family, so it's a culture shock."

The Center provides a safe space for veterans feeling this way to build relationships with their comrades. A common theme among each branch of the military is that the relationships built are close-knit; veterans typically feel comfortable around other veterans.

James described the transition from being active in the military to returning to a college campus as a culture shock. With the ways of life differing in polarizing fashion, it is important that partnerships take place across the campus to aid those who have defended our country, according to James.

"We operate with partnerships and have a veteran success team, people who can make things happen, make things happen," James said. "Faculty members in all different areas really help us push things through for our students."

Operating the myMemphis portal or knowing where to go in the Memphis community for a service may come easy to the typical student, but for military veterans, these concepts can be new, so the Veterans and Military Student Services Center steps in to help.

Sydnie Roberts, the veteran transition specialist at The UofM, leads the efforts in this area. She holds new student orientation, reviewing the basics of operating myMemphis and other guesswork veterans could run into.

"I think the biggest thing with transition is creating a space for support and advocacy," Roberts said. "Students from the military can feel behind, so we not only create a way to make them feel welcome but make them feel like a part of this."

Roberts also said that communication is key in a veteran's success as a student. While advisor-to-student communication is important, it is also important for professors to understand that if the military calls upon a student, it should not damage the student's academic status.

It can feel disorienting for a veteran to be in the civilian world. According to Roberts, the goal is not just to have veterans feeling comfortable on campus, but to flourish alongside others not connected to the military.

"A lot of the time structure is planned for them (veterans), so to be thrown back into this life can feel disorienting," Roberts said. "We help bridge the gap by celebrating previous service that also builds this new life to come back to."

The UofM now accepts the Folds of Honor scholarship for military-involved students and has textbook programs to make the experience more affordable. While The UofM and Veterans and Military Student Services Center strive to help veterans through college, they are also prepared to help when the unexpected occurs.

Military veteran Zoe Allen is teaching all learners major at The UofM. She praised the Veterans and Military Student Services Center on their constant efforts to include veterans in campus activity but mentioned a time that the Center went above and beyond to lend a hand.

"My first semester here, I was kicked out of my family's house, and the first place I came was here," Allen said. "They helped me with the emergency fund, so without this office, I wouldn't know who to go to."

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