Saint Leo University, long recognized for supporting the educational needs of America's veterans and their families, has broken new ground among American colleges and universities by creating the first undergraduate degree devoted to veteran studies. A Saint Leo minor is also available in this emerging field.

The major will give students the opportunity to study the distinctive lives and cultures formed by military service and by retirement from service—a part of American culture that is often not understood except in shallow or stereotypic ways. The first course in the Bachelor of Arts program will be offered in the Fall 2021 Semester at University Campus, giving currently enrolled and new students the opportunity to explore in the program. Both student-veterans and to students who are not veterans may enroll.

"Our faculty are already getting some positive feedback from military-affiliated groups for launching this program, and we believe the civilian sphere will also come to recognize the merit and importance of this course of study," said University President Jeffrey Senese. "Our country can only benefit from learning more about the past and current experiences of our fellow citizens who have served in our armed forces. That's what this program will provide," Senese said.

Eventually, the Saint Leo veteran studies degree program will also be offered online.

The development of veteran studies as a field now is in some ways similar to the emergence of African-American studies, Chicano or various Hispanic-American studies, women's and gender studies, or rural studies in previous decades, according to Dr. Karen Hannel, an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Hannel, who has studied the way conflict shapes a society's art and artists, designed and oversees the veteran studies program. She said the veteran studies program will be an open-minded, scholarly inquiry into the veteran identity, which in turn, will eventually expand society's understanding of the members of the group, and of history. That has been the result of scholarship into African-American and Chicano lives and history, as well as the outcome of programs that examine the lives of women, and of people who live in rural communities, she said.

Veterans, Hannel noted, tend to have entered military service during formative years of young adulthood. Their youth upon entry into the service, combined with the influences of a shared language, work ethic, familiarity with hardship, understanding of authority and ranks, dedication to mutual protection, particular rituals and ceremonies, and passages back into civilian life, all help give veterans' lives some enduring characteristics, Hannel said. It is apparent to most people in American society that military service and veteran status can affect a person's or a family's career choices, social status, and health concerns, Hannel said.

Courses in the major

Students majoring in veteran studies will devote at least 39 credit hours of the 120 needed for graduation to selected and approved courses. They include a core of courses that are "veteran-centric," Hannel said. One is the required, three-credit introductory course to be offered in the fall at University Campus, taught by Dr. Ernest "Luke" McClees Jr., an educator who directs Saint Leo's Office of Military Affairs and Services, which helps military and veteran students find any resources they might need across the university system.

The core also includes one course on the roles legendary warriors assumed in their respective societies in fictional and historical accounts from ancient and medieval times, and another on the more recent lived experiences of Native American warriors in dealing with or in serving the U.S. military. A senior seminar is also a required course. Several other offerings are being created that will explore topics such as African-American soldiers and veterans, veteran law, and cultural and artistic consequences of World War I.

To fulfill the rest of their major requirements, students in the veteran studies program will choose from a range of courses from other departments that offer relevant material. They include: conflict resolution, history, psychology including military psychology, political science, religion, ethics, arts and creative expression, and public art and memorials. Internships will be encouraged and one-on-one advising will be provided.

This academic background will produce students with strong skills in analysis, research, and writing, all of which are useful in careers and advanced-degree programs. About 21 percent of student-veterans who earn a bachelor's degree go on to earn a graduate degree, according to a 2017 study that Hannel cited.

Career options with a veteran studies major or minor

Hannel said students drawn to the major will be able to seek careers in public policy, law, nonprofit work, teaching, counseling, communications, business, or the military through concurrent enrollment in the university's ROTC program. Some students may be interested in the program for more personal reasons, such as because of a history of military service in their families.

Students can also pursue two majors at once, Hannel said, such as history and veteran studies, political science and veteran studies, or English and veteran studies.

Saint Leo is also offering students the option of an academic minor in veteran studies, which requires only 15 credits. That can make sense for certain students who want to go into a "helping field" where a major such as psychology, sociology, social work, or human services, will be required, and who also want to serve or interact a veteran population. Combinations with other academic majors or even other minors are also possible.

The Saint Leo administrators noted this new program should not be confused with programs offered at various other colleges and universities that are marketed specifically to veterans to teach them a new skill or occupation for post-military life, such as occupational therapy. Those programs are considered veteran services offerings.

Saint Leo has long been recognized for providing educational opportunities and financial aid to veterans, active-duty servicemembers and their families by publications such as Military Times, U.S. News and World Report, and by Victory Media Inc. That depth of experience led Saint Leo faculty to recognize that veteran studies is an emerging field to which Saint Leo can contribute, Hannel said.

Admissions and enrollment inquiries can be made by phone toll-free at (877) 622-2009 or email at

Photo: Several years ago Saint Leo had a sculpture installed in the center of campus to honor military personnel and veterans; it depicts a working servicemember from each branch of the armed forces helping to hold Lady Liberty aloft. The sculpture is called For Those Who Serve.