Manhattan College’s growing population of student veterans now has a place to call its own.
The Veterans Success Center, which opened with a ceremonial ribbon cutting last Monday, is located on the second floor of Thomas Hall in the room vacated by the Games Club. The center offers Manhattan’s veteran students a place to meet, study and lounge.
“All the veterans on campus,[…] we all have very different, unique stories. We’re a very diverse group. And there’s 100 of us,” said senior Kirsten Battochio, president of the Student Veterans Organization. “But, out of all of us, all of our stories, there’s two things we have in common: one, our decision to serve and enlist into the military, and two was our decision to come to Manhattan College.”
Battocchio envisions using the space for meetings for her organization, and as an all-day space for veterans to both work and unwind.
The room will serve as the headquarters for Carly Cummings, an MBA student who serves as the graduate assistant for veterans’ services.
“This will be used for like a lounge area for all the veterans and also for them to host their meetings and get togethers and stuff like that,” Cummings said.
Cummings’ position is a new one, created just this past summer to help boost the college’s support services for veterans.
“If they need to find a contact, they can come to me. If they want to learn about the GI bill or about their finances at Manhattan College, they can come to me and I can point them in the right direction,” Cummings said. Cummings will also make visits to local community colleges to recruit veterans into Manhattan College’s four-year degree programs.
Instrumental in building the center was Stephen Kaplan, Ph.D., professor of religious studies and director for veterans success. The process for securing the room for the Veterans Success Center began two and a half years ago, according to Battochio.
“So it’s been a process. Honestly, two and a half years is very quick to get a space on campus,” Battochio said. “That was when the initial talk started happening. And maybe a year and a half ago […] that’s when this started to get pushed.”
The space was finalized by the end of the last academic year.
At the ceremony, Manhattan College President Brennan P. O’Donnell, Ph.D., spoke about the two-pronged importance of having the space for veterans.
“Practically, because it can help us to continue the high level of support and contribute to the high level of support that we’re trying to give our veteran students in your transition from military to civilian life,” O’Donnell said to the crowd assembled in Café 1853 shortly before the ribbon cutting
“Symbolically, it’s a sign of our values. It’s a sign of our commitment to [veterans],” O’Donnell said.
“It’s really in continuity with our past that we do this,” O’Donnell said.
Since becoming Manhattan’s president, the college has placed an emphasis on recruiting and supporting veterans into its undergraduate programs.
This year, the college was ranked the sixth best northern college for veterans by U.S. News and World Report.
According to O’Donnell’s remarks, the veteran population on campus has doubled in the past few years.
“You get a few people in the community who get passionate about something, and they start talking to other people… and they start to build the structures,” O’Donnell said in a later interview. “I simply played the role of encouraging people with good ideas.
Student veteran Brian Wright thinks Manhattan College’s academic support services as a key element in the support chain for veterans.
“We come from six years to, some of us, twenty years, of no school and when you come back to college, you forget what you learned in high school,” Wright said. “So tutoring is a huge part, and I think that Manhattan College has done a great thing and I think that’s benefitting a lot of veterans.”
Originally from Northern California, Wright entered the Air Force in 1999 after attending one semester of junior college.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I joined the Air Force,” Wright said. Wright is still in the Air Force – as a member of the International Guard. He plans to graduate from Manhattan with an environmental engineering degree and rejoin the Air Force as part of the Engineering Squadron.
Battochio, 27, is originally from Bethel, Conn., and entered the Marines in 2009 after attending one year of college at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y.
“I attended Manhattanville for a year, and I did well, had a great time at school,” Battochio said. Battochio had to leave Manhattanville for financial reasons, putting a deposit down at the University of Connecticut before changing her mind and enlisting in the Marines.
“I just felt like it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t moving forward so I decided to start looking to the military,” Battochio said.
After graduation, Battochio wants to reenter federal service as a civilian employee.
But for now, she will be enjoying her final year as a Manhattan College student-veteran, and her final semester as president of Manhattan College SVO – an organization that has found for itself a place to call all its own.