Saint Leo Emphasizes Military Supportive Services

March 13, 2015

Two small words can mean a lot. As Tedd “Gunny” Weiser, interim director of Veteran Students Services at Saint Leo University said at the Forward March Dinner, “There are no other words that can say it better: Thank you.”

Weiser organized the March 12 dinner held in the Student Community Center boardrooms to provide information about programs and support services offered by Veteran Student Services (VSS) to current students, veterans, active duty military personnel, and community members. Guest speakers from Saint Leo University’s Career Services, Counseling Services, Registrar’s Office, Student Services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs discussed veteran educational benefit programs, employment opportunities, counseling services, and student success. In addition, information about external free veteran support retreats was shared. The dinner also was a way to express gratitude to student veterans and their families for their years of service to their country and community.

Saint Leo’s Veteran Student Services takes a three-prong approach to helping military students: transition, reintegration, and academic success. The goal of VSS is to assist students in those areas and to bridge the gap from active duty to civilian life.

The university has a long tradition of providing educational opportunities to those who serve. Saint Leo often is described as “military friendly,” but Weiser said the university’s commitment goes beyond that. “We’re military supportive,” he said.

At University Campus, Saint Leo serves 135 military students and family members, while there are 7,042 military students and dependents receiving an education at Saint Leo via its more than 40 education centers and offices and online. Thursday’s Forward March dinner was live-streamed to 42 locations.

All of the presenters emphasized the abundance of resources that are available to Saint Leo’s student veterans, ROTC members, reservists, and active-duty personnel.

Rob Liddell, director of Career Planning, emphasized his department’s offering for military students, which represent the 3 Rs: rapport, relationships, and resources. “We stand beside our veterans,” Liddell said. “And once a Lion, always a Lion.”

Student Counseling Services Director Lawson Jolly said his department’s goal is to promote good mental health and help students avoid things that do harm. “Each year, 25 percent of students, 1 in 4, come into the center,” Jolly said. This is a testament to how in tune and focused Saint Leo is on the well-being of its students. The counseling center finds most students are dealing with one of four main issues: depression, anxiety, relationships, and substance use. Jolly advised students to email or call the center, but walk-ins are welcome.

Associate Registrar Lori Lavery-Broda talked about how students can use their GI benefits, and told students to “come on in” and discuss the benefits.

Nick Lanier, former president of Student Veterans of America, gave a stirring story of what it is like to go back to school after serving. “At 40 years old, I get to change who I am,” said Lanier, who will graduate in May.

“Saint Leo afforded me this opportunity. I’m a soldier, and I’m a college student. I have children older than the kids who were in class with me,” he said of his first days on campus. Through the help of the many resources offered by Saint Leo University, Lanier became involved in the university community. “We want to recruit good students; we want to retain good students; we want you to matriculate; we want you to graduate with honors,” he said.

Other resources represented were the university’s Learning Support Services, Learning Resource Center, tutoring services, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and James A. Haley VA Hospital.

John November and Ann Johnson of Gratitude America discussed free retreats that are available to military personnel and a spouse or support person. Weiser is lobbying to get a retreat to be based at the university or in the Tampa Bay area. Richard Blomgren, of North Carolina Outward Bound, discussed the opportunities available for Saint Leo’s military students.

For information about Veteran Student Services or any of the above resources, contact Tedd “Gunny” Weiser at (352) 588-8234 or tedd.weiser@saintleo.edu or go to www.saintleo.edu/vss.