NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University is a designated Tier 1 research center, and a member of the Big 10 athletic conference, known for its dedication to research and advancement in all scientific disciplines.
But it's also a great place for student veterans to navigate their way to success through high quality programs aimed at supporting and improving the experience for student veterans in higher education institutions.
In fact, Military Times magazine recently named the Rutgers Business School as the fourth-best university for veterans.
Student veterans in recent years have grown from being a small minority in college campus life, to actively bridging the gaps created by their gulf of unique experiences and skills that distinguishes them from other participants in higher education institutions.
Now, on a scale that has not been seen previously in prior conflicts and with the aid of social media, student veterans in America are connecting together and speaking out about their experiences with fellow students and instructors in innovative, constructive ways that are unique from previous conflicts.
Re-integration into society, and working in new and different learning environments, can be daunting challenges for most veterans who enter higher education, as opposed to regular civilians who begin registration as students fresh out of high school.
In recent years, and under the previous administration of Rutgers President Richard McCormick, the school worked to better accomodate the special needs of veterans and encourage them to choose Rutgers.
New Brunswick is one of many communites that benefits from the presence of student veterans and the corresponding programs that assist them at Rutgers University. And the attending student veterans at Rutgers seem to agree that the school does it's best to accomodate them and help them thrive.
As Matt Gibbons, Perri Williams, Ricardo Sanchez, and Bryan Adams explained in interviews with New Brunswick Today, Rutgers University was the only institution in the state, if not the entire country, to offer student veterans such extensive programs and funding for veterans support.
Veterans House, located at 14 Lafayette Street, is a location within the Rutgers University New Brunswick campus that is devoted exclusively to the care and information processing for student veterans within the Rutgers community.
With a staff almost entirely composed of retired enlisted and some officers, these veterans seek to make a difference and enhance their educational benefits and experiences at Rutgers.
Our interviews with student veterans were made possible by Rutgers Director of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, Ret. Col. Stephen G. Abel and his close friend, assistant director, and former Navy Intelligence specialist Robert J. Bright.
These veterans, many who were involved in military combat operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, were eager to share their experiences with the New Brunswick community and offer their unique insights and perspectives on their subjects of study.
"Leading by example" is the phrase that governs the lives of these individuals, and with their steadfast resolve to pursue their education and positively impact their local community, they are succeeding in winning for themselves and their university much deserved praise and a closer look at their struggles and triumphs.
Throughout the interviews, it was readily apparent that the young men and women had experienced life-changing situations during their time in service. In the face of adverse situations, they were trained to rise above, overcome, and adapt to their conditions.
The responsibilities and powers that had been given to them, have matured them in ways that may or may not be readily transparent to a casual observer.
During the interviews, there was an underlying sense of determination, and profound gratitude from the support and personnel of the Rutgers Administration and other contributors to the cause of student veterans.
Gibbons, a sophomore at Rutgers University, and maintaining a high grade point average in his two major degrees, Philosophy and Labor Studies, as well as a minor in Leadership skills, was the first in the group to tell his story.
In his prior service with the active duty USMC (United States Marine Corps), he served in the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines as an 0311 Rifleman, which he explained is an Infantry-related Military Occupational Specialty.
Gibbons said his goal is to "challenge himself to the best of his abilities, pushing himself to his limits in education and career skills management."
With such a determined and ambitious goal to see the best investment of his skills and veterans benefits, he decided on Rutgers University in order to fulfill his desire for more education and self-improvement.
Gibbons also volunteers at a youth camp in his spare time, and provides community outreach support at Veterans House. He is also currently contemplating law school as a future career goal.
Williams, another current student at Rutgers, chose the school due to its reputation for excellence in helping student veterans navigate the "red tape" of the large university, helping veterans access and recieve educational benefits as promptly as possible.
With a bright demeanor and and a soft voice, Williams explained her interests in Rutgers University and provided some of her prior military backstory during the interview.
Originally in the Navy, serving as a Cryptology Technician, Williams later transfered to the Army to work in Psychology Operations.
She enjoyed her time in both services, and was inspired to go into the Navy due to her grandfather having served in the Merchant Marines, and then later observing her father and brother participating in the Navy as well.
Now pursuing double majors in Pyschology and English, with an interest in eventually going to graduate school for studies as a Criminal Psychologist, Wiliams is helping Veterans House expand their programs to successfully induct more student veterans for participation in studying at Rutgers University.
Ricardo Sanchez, originally from Elizabeth, is a former active duty Marine that was previously assigned to embassy protection, as his Primary MOS was Marine Security Guard, and also held a secondary MOS as a small arms repairman.
From his experiences at different embassies in different locations throughout the world, he decided on pursuing a degree close to his hometown of Elizabeth, and is currently pursuing two majors in Latin American studies, and Political Science.
During the interview, Ricardo eloquently expressed his dreams of being able to positively influence all Latin Americans with his experiences and actions, pursuing a career that would allow him to travel abroad and continue assisting the US government in areas such as interpretation, culture studies, and resource management.
Veterans House also provides employment to a handful of veterans who also went to Rutgers including Bryan Adams, a soldier decorated with the Purple Heart, the nation's oldest military award for servicemen, for his wounds taken during combat operations overseas was also the final candidate for NBT's interviews in Veterans House.
With a quiet gravitas in his demeanor, Adams recounted to NBT a few of his experiences while serving in the Army for the 11B MOS, part of the Sniper Section in the First Infantry Division of the Army.
Adams was motivated to join the US Army, when as a young teen growing up in New Jersey, he witnessed the World Trade Center towers collapse after terrorist attacks. The experience left a profound mark on him and propelled his sense of duty into signing up and enlisting for the Army after graduating high school.
While on Active Duty, Adams was also stationed on a European base, in Schweifurt Germany, and later transferred to Fort Riley.
His sense of adventure not withstanding, Adams enjoyed his experience in the Army and felt that he gained a noble purpose in helping to protect American citizens, men and women who relied on him and his fellow service members for protection against destabilizing acts of violence.
After being wounded, and then completing his enlistment in 2010, Adams looked into colleges and universities that offered the most services for veterans who were interested in pursuing higher education and skills. Being born and raised in New Jersey, he was familiar with Rutgers, but had not before explored the options and recent improvements in their programs assisting Student Veterans, initiatives spearheaded by Abel and his team.
Adams pursued a bachelor's degree in marketing at Rutgers and now works for the University as an advocate for Student Veterans.
Today, Adams is employed by Veterans House as a Veterans Service Coordinator, and it is a duty he takes seriously, encouraging his fellow student veterans to apply to higher education institutions and utilize their Post/911 GI Bill benefits.
Adams noted that no other university or college in New Jersey offered the same type of services and consideration for veterans as Rutgers State University offered to its Student Veterans.
All told, Abel and Bright have achieved a remarkable level of success in seeking out student veterans and offering guidance, new programs, and funding to increase the activity at Veterans House, improve services for student veterans and streamline benefits claims for all who require the use of their organization's services.
A new documentary currently in the production process, titled "The War After," represents a collaboration between Rutgers Center For Digital Filmaking and Veterans House, that will soon be released to the public.
With the help and support of additional organizations such as the Lumina Foundation, based in Indianapolis and committed to improving the success rate of students graduating postsecondary institutions in America, the team at Veterans House is able to provide a variety of services and advocate for student veterans for consideration and cooperation in such high-end projects.
For more information on Veterans House and the services they provide, please visit the following links: