by Pete Janny & Kelly Kennedy, Sports Editor & Social Media Editor
Manhattan College has been recognized as a military friendly school for the seventh consecutive year. The designation comes as a result of the college meeting specific criteria determined by Victory, a military marketing company that ranks schools and companies based on the opportunities they provide veterans.
The difference between this year’s recognition and the previous six is that this year the school has earned gold designation, a tier higher than the silver status the college had received in the past.
The college’s Veteran Success Program on campus is the catalyst for the annual military based honors. This program serves to help veterans navigate the challenges of being a student and preparing for future careers.
As the program’s director, Tiana Sloan has been at the forefront of helping develop the reputation of being a military friendly school. Sloan believes the importance of giving back to veterans is fundamental to the Lasallian mission. She cites the college’s history of supporting veterans, including the first student veteran at the school who served during the Civil War.
“I think it’s important to note that Manhattan College has been supporting military and veterans for over 150 years,” Sloan said. “If you look back to why the school was founded, it was founded to support underserved populations.”
Receiving the gold designation was the culmination of decades worth of hard work to support veterans. It puts Manhattan in exclusive company with 51 other four-year colleges or universities leading the way in assisting veterans.
“I think that this gold designation is long overdue, because we’ve been doing this for a really long time,” Sloan said.
A large component of the evaluation process is based on how well an institution meets certain statistical thresholds, including rates for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment and loan-default for all students, but specifically student veterans. Among the factors that make Manhattan stand out are the demographics and academic success of their student veteran population. This includes a 66 percent people of color, 20 percent women and a 3.2 average GPA.
But according to Sloan, the success of the veteran success program is about more than statistics. For instance, Fordham enrolls over 400 student veterans in comparison to the little over 100 at Manhattan. However, the perceived benefits that come with being a smaller community is something Manhattan prides itself on.
“I didn’t want to be a number and I wanted to take the opportunity to go to a small school,” said Andrea Toral Merchan, current president of the Veterans Success Program and senior electrical engineering major. “It’s about giving back because the military is all about other people and working as a team, and I feel like here is the same.”
Student leadership is a big part of what the program is about and why it has reached the gold designation. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have not stopped the student-veterans from staying connected, with Sloan and the student leadership team continuing to organize virtual events during this time. Although their annual trip to the Bahamas was cancelled, the program has done other activities such as neighborhood cleanups, the most notable of which took place at Van Cortlandt Memorial Grove on a Saturday morning last October.
“I’ve always been big on the cleanups and seeing it happen for our student veterans organization was huge,” said Brandon Alvarez, vice president of Veterans Success Program and senior environmental engineering major .
The next cleanup is currently scheduled for March 20 and Alvarez hopes to involve more of the Manhattan College community alongside members of the student veteran population.
“That one I plan to make not just for student veterans, but we’ll have you know, other members of our student population, and hopefully some faculty,” Alvarez said.
It’s never too late to go back to school for veterans considering the average age of the veteran population at the college is 31 years old, ranging from a 22-year-old to someone in their fifties. The transition from active duty to being a full-time student entails no shortage of challenges, making it all the more important for them to find the right situation.
To help integrate the influx of first-year veteran students, there are sections of the introductory religion course entitled The Nature and Experience of Religion solely reserved for them. This is meant to give student veterans the opportunity to develop relationships with one another at the beginning of their college careers.
“You actually get to know who’s in the same position as you are as a veteran,” Toral Merchan said. “After that, I felt so comfortable with everybody.”
After receiving the gold designation, the veteran success program will look to double down in their efforts for serving student veterans on campus. According to Sloan, preparations are underway for dealing with the potential short and long-term challenges related to recruiting and retention as a result of the pandemic.
“We have definitely seen a little bit of a downturn, but I am confident that we’re getting back on track and doing everything in our power to keep getting the word out,” Sloan said. “Certainly having the gold recognition is another storyline to help us get the word out.”
The office for the Veterans Success Programs is located on the second floor of Thomas Hall. Those interested in learning more about the program should contact Tiana Sloan.