By Karen Flores, Asst Features Editor
Manhattan College has received the Military Friendly School’s highest designation, earning a top ten college ranking of number eight due to the efficiency of the Veterans Success Programs on campus.
This designation is given based on an institution’s ability to successfully meet criterias in graduation, job placement, student retention, degree advancement or transfer and loan repayment and default rates for student veterans.
These criteria are determined by Viqtory, a data-driven military marketing company, with the input of the Military Friendly Advisory Council of independent leaders in the higher education and the military recruitment community. The ratings are determined by the survey response set from the institution, government public data sources which are then combined in a logic based scoring assessment.
According to the MC website, this marks the eighth consecutive year that Manhattan College is recognized as a Military Friendly school. Last year, the college was one of 52 colleges nationwide to receive a gold level designation for its Veterans Success programs. This year is the first time that MC is included within the Military Friendly School’s Top Ten institutions.
Tiana Sloan, director of the Veterans Success Programs, says that these programs put an emphasis on aiding the veterans during their transition from military to civilian life as these are two very distinct environments with different structures.
“They [veterans] lead a very structured life in the military,” Sloan said. “They are told when to wake up, they’re told what to wear, they’re told ‘This is your job. This is what you eat.’ And when they leave the military, and come out into civilian life, especially into college life, it’s chaotic for them, and that causes a lot of stress. I think even as civilians we can understand that like, every time we have a major life change, just going from high school then to college life, that transition causes stress but for veterans, it can cause more stress.”
The veteran programs aim to connect veterans with each other and create a sense of community during their transition into civilian life. While the shift from in person to remote during the pandemic made keeping the sense of community a bit harder for veterans, Sloan says that they were able to keep the interconnectedness steady despite the isolation period we all experienced.
“They really like each other, they like to get together and relax and talk. It really was tough [during COVID pandemic]. What we did to pivot during that, which was hard, was we had weekly gatherings online,” Sloan said . “So we used to meet in person once a week. Now we met on Zoom once a week and some of our Zoom calls would go from 4pm to 1am because like nobody was getting out of the house and it was like let’s just all connect. We did online trivia contests. We had moderated discussions. We just did as much as possible online.”
One of the many offerings that MC has for student veterans is the Veterans at Ease program created by Stephan Kaplan, Ph.D, professor of religious studies. This program, which officially became a program in the spring of 2016, is centered around the first year religious studies course “The Nature and Experience of Religion – Stress Reduction,” or RELS 161, which includes a retreat to a yoga center in the Bahamas for veterans to get to know each other and to practice ways to relieve stress in good ways.
Kaplan said that the creation of the Veterans at Ease program was not planned. He was teaching a senior level religious studies seminar which included taking the students to a yoga retreat center in the Bahamas in the spring of 2015. His idea stemmed from a student veteran who came to him and asked to partake in the retreat.
“He [the student] is a veteran,” Kaplan said. “And he didn’t have the money to go. So I approached a bunch of vice presidents and asked if they would pay something for this kid, this young man to go. They said they would but he got redeployed, so he dropped out of the issue. But the thought of inviting veterans to a retreat for stress reduction struck me; it was a good idea.”
Kaplan recalled that he had originally thought of this from the perspective of the research he had conducted in areas of religious groups, philosophy and neuroscience. Oftentimes, student veterans may feel a sense of disconnect from traditional undergraduate students due to having served for many years in the military, the experiences they have been through and possible age gaps.
“Most of our [traditional] students are graduating high school seniors,” Kaplan said. “You know, leaving home for the first time, in the vast majority. It’s not true of all but you have a natural peer group. But the veteran students, they’ve been in the military for four years, six years, eight years, 12 years, 20 years. Some are immigrants or children of immigrants. So they’re coming to America or are first generation students but are not traditional college students. They have no natural peer group.”
He believes that allowing the veteran students to meet in a classroom, create a community and help them feel supported is essential to their success in college and civilian life.
“I think all the veterans on this campus realize if you are isolated like so many of us were during COVID, it makes the transition harder. Isolation breeds problems. Community and friends make life better,” Kaplan said .
Christopher Norberto, president of the Student Veterans Organization (SVO) and a junior sociology major with a concentration in criminology and philosophy minor, reflects on his transition from the military lifestyle to a civilian and academic lifestyle.
“[The transition from the military to civilian life], it’s one of the hardest things you could go through,” Noberto said. “When I got out [of the military] in 2019, I stayed in the reserves for two years because I thought it would help with the transition. It did not and I couldn’t get a job. I got rejected from some other schools. Manhattan College really helped put me back on a path that I needed to be on.”
One of the goals of the SVO is to bring the veteran students and the traditional students together so they can share their experiences and be able to get to know each other.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between the veteran students who are typically older,” Noberto said. “I’m 31. And with the general students there’s a disconnect there. And I personally, as the president right now, would like to blur the lines between the students and the veterans. There should be no difference between us.”
Sloan, Noberto, Kaplan and other faculty members have expressed great delight at the designation given to Manhattan College for their work with veterans, and encourage students to interact and talk to the veterans on campus and to not be intimidated by them.
“I’m so excited about that. We’ve done a lot of hard work in the last couple of years. And it’s nice to see the recognition,”said Noberto. “And that older person in the classroom? They’re not as scary as they look. I know we look a little intimidating but we’re all friendly and are open to talking to and meeting everyone.”
“A lot of times they’re going through a lot of the same things that our traditional students are going through,” Sloan said. “So I would say like if you have a veteran in your class, say hi get to know them and you know, if you’re walking by the Veterans Center feel free to say hi and stop by.”
The Veterans Center is located on the first floor of Thomas Hall next to Cafe 1853. For more information on the programs, feel free to contact Tiana Sloan, firstname.lastname@example.org.