Tedd Weiser knows what it means to serve.
He understands the intensity of military life – the closeness that develops among service members from being in an environment where everyone shares a common mission, structure and sense of purpose.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Weiser joined the U.S. Marine Corps, which became his life for the next 20 years. He was stationed in Japan, California and North Carolina and also was deployed to the Middle East to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom where he was wounded in combat.
Weiser also understands what it's like to transition from a long and successful military career to civilian life – the disorientation and loss of identity, among countless other emotions and issues that can affect service members separating from the military.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 2005, Weiser worked for several years in public school systems before enrolling at Saint Leo in 2011 and earning a bachelor's degree in religion.
Currently pursuing dual master's degrees in instructional design and religion, Weiser also acts as interim director of Saint Leo University's Office of Veteran Student Services (VSS).
It's a position for which he is personally and professionally well suited. That's because when he retired, he brought with him not only the nickname "Gunny," which he had acquired as a gunnery sergeant, but also a deep understanding of the military mindset.
That knowledge of military culture, combined with his personal experience, makes Weiser empathetic to the challenges of student-veterans.
Raising awareness of available resources
As a result, Weiser works hard to make new services and tools available to student-veterans that will help them be successful in their educational pursuits – whether they are attending classes on ground at University Campus, at one of Saint Leo's education centers or online through the Center for Online Learning.
The most current tool that has become available to student-veterans is a Saint Leo online Student Veteran Transition Course: an eight-week module that is based on "The Military to Civilian Transition Guide" published by Corporate Gray, leaders in military-to-civilian career transition services and made funded through a Goodrich Award Saint Leo's VSS Office received in 2012.
A not-for-credit, self-paced course, students or family members can start and complete it at their convenience. Topics cover the gamut of issues a veteran faces – from getting organized, setting goals and identifying skills and interests to creating a resume, interviewing and negotiating salary and benefits.
According to Weiser, the purpose of the course is not to instruct from a traditional academic perspective nor create additional work for student-veterans. In fact, students receive a certificate, not a grade, when they complete the course.
The goal, rather, is to raise awareness of the extensive resources that are available to veterans as they work through a transition unlike any other they have ever experienced.
Creating community among student-veterans
"Transitioning from active duty can be extremely challenging," said Weiser.
Just one of the challenges he faced himself related to translating his military accomplishments to a civilian job, particularly quantifying his experiences and "breaking down duties into measureable output" to list on a resume.
Between the course and the transition guide that is supplied to every student who enrolls, Weiser believes veterans will find valuable information to help work through these types of career-related issues.
Thinking about his own transition, Weiser also recalls how he had to learn to adapt to a new culture and mentality at work and in the classroom.
"For 20 years, it was all about accomplishing the mission for me," he says. "So after I retired, I couldn't understand why the people I worked with or went to school with outside of the Marines did not have the same level of aggressiveness towards accomplishing their goals or job requirements as I did."
Therefore, in addition to providing practical resources, Weiser hopes that the course will help create community among the university's student-veterans.
"There is a bond among veterans, particularly combat veterans, which provides an element of understanding, comfort and peace that no other relationship can touch."
By providing student-veterans enrolled in the course with the opportunity to connect through online discussion questions – to share insights and strategies for working with issues that are different from traditional student experiences – he hopes that they will realize they are not alone.
University-wide support for veterans
Weiser, himself, will facilitate the course and therefore will be able to offer guidance to student-veterans who take advantage of the free tool.
At the same time, he wants all Saint Leo students, including online students, to know that support for their success extends well beyond the course and is available university-wide – from the Center for Online Learning's VA certifying officials, to student advisors, to his office. For example, there's an emergency fund for temporary financial assistance, a Military & Family Club for online students that meets every month.
"I want all student-veterans at Saint Leo to know that regardless of where they are located or how they are taking their classes the Office of Veteran Student Services is here to support them in every way as they navigate the unfamiliar world of academia."
Student-veterans who are enrolled in one of Saint Leo's online degree programs can register for the Student Veteran Transition course at any time.
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