For generations, Saint Leo University has been known as a military-friendly institution of higher education. In fact, the school was once called St. Leo Military College and was formally designated as a military college several times throughout its long and rich history. Plus, Saint Leo has had a direct presence offering degree programs on many military bases around the country since the early 1970s.
Thanks to its tight-knit relationship with military and veteran students, it only makes perfect sense for Saint Leo University to become the first institution in the United States to offer a bachelor’s degree in veteran studies. In addition to this BA program, students will also be able to take a minor in veteran studies to pair with another major. Both of these undergraduate options will launch in the fall of 2021.
We recently caught up with two members of the university community who have helped put this brand new degree program on the map. Dr. Karen Hannel is the chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and is an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies. Dr. Ernest “Luke” McClees, a Marine Corps veteran himself, is the director of the university’s Office of Military Affairs and Services. Both will be teaching in the veteran studies program.
Q: When did the field of veteran studies start gaining traction?
McClees: Dr. Travis Martin, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University where I used to work, got the ball rolling as a veteran student himself in a master’s program there around 2011. At the time, EKU and other universities discovered that they were enrolling a large number of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who had served in the 2000s. He and Dr. Brett Morris, the director of veterans affairs at EKU, worked together to establish the first-ever veteran studies minor and certificate program. Dr. Martin also helped create the Kentucky Center for Veterans Studies.
The University of Missouri – St. Louis also jumped on board and started a similar program. By now, there are about nine schools offering minors and certificates in veteran studies. The Journal of Veterans Studies, which I serve on the board for, has also grown over this time.
Q: Why did Saint Leo University decide to launch this BA in veteran studies degree program?
Hannel: When you talk to veterans, they want to continue serving in some way and be of use. With our Benedictine history and core values, Saint Leo has a very community-minded organization through the notion that we are servants of our community. I think this puts us in a great position to offer this program.
Plus, there have been 363 dissertations written in the U.S. on veteran issues since 2017. I think this speaks volumes about the interest in this area of study. This field is so young and there is a lot of ground that has yet to be broken.
McClees: With Saint Leo’s identity, our market, and our history, it really makes sense for us to offer this veteran studies program. Of course, any new program can be a leap, but it’s a calculated leap and one we’ve got some teeth behind to really make it work.
Q: What will the program cover?
Hannel: This program is offered under the College of Arts and Sciences within the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. Students will examine the human experience of military conflict throughout history and across a variety of cultures. The interdisciplinary curriculum draws from the social sciences, humanities, and the arts. The main foundation of this program emphasizes that military service ultimately creates unique and diverse communities.
Q: What types of students is this veteran studies program geared toward?
Hannel: We want to make it clear that this bachelor’s degree program and the minor are open to both veteran and non-veteran students. If you think about a student doing this program first and then going into the military, it will help prepare them for any challenges that face active-duty members and might even help them more easily transition out of the military when they decide to leave. I could also see those who grew up in a military family or those interested in the intersection of conflict and culture, like myself, being interested in the program.
McClees: Based on veteran studies classes I taught at Eastern Kentucky, my guess is that it will be largely a civilian population in the program. I think ROTC students would be a relevant population. I also think those who work for the Veterans Administration or for other agencies and organizations that assist veterans could greatly benefit from this program. It would give them a view of veterans they might not otherwise get.
Q: Where will this program be offered?
Hannel: For now, this program will only be offered at our University Campus just north of Tampa, FL. However, we are in the “queue” to develop an online version of this program which we hope to launch in the next two years. We have already received a lot of interest in an online format.
Q: What are some of the courses that will be taught in the program?
Hannel: The program offers a nice variety of courses. Two unique classes I’d like to mention are:
- Legendary Warriors of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds – This course looks at historical and fictional warriors of the ancient and medieval worlds, such as Alexander the Great, Odysseus, Hannibal, and Joan of Arc. Students will look at how post-conflict issues have been portrayed in history and the developments in equipment, strategy, and how the actions of these warriors created empires. It will explore how some heroic ideals continue to influence how we perceive leadership, military service, and the veteran experience.
- Native American Warriors and Veterans: Serving Two Sovereigns - This class explores the role of native warriors as Veterans of the United States military and the place of honor they hold in indigenous societies.
McClees: I am proud to say I’ll be teaching the intro class. It will include all majors and minors in the program, so I’ll get to know all of the students. We will look at what military service actually involves, how it has been perceived throughout history, and reintegration back into civilian life in terms of psychological stimuli that are created and taken away during and after military service.
Q: Who are the faculty who will be teaching in this program?
Hannel: We currently have 10 core faculty members across various degree programs who will teach in this bachelor’s program, many of whom are veterans themselves. We hope to bring on some additional faculty as well.
Q: What are some examples of career opportunities with this degree?
Hannel: This program will be heavy on advising, so students will work closely with their advisors on career exploration based on the student’s specific areas of interest. I think veteran law and policy, working for veteran-oriented nonprofits, and even working as a headhunter for veterans are just a few examples.
McClees: This degree could also be good for careers in law enforcement and working in courts. Some other potential tracks are:
- Social work
- Political science
- Education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels
- Healthcare (i.e. physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other areas in which veterans comprise a large population of the patients)
Q: What are some possible graduate degree programs students could pursue upon completing this undergraduate degree?
McClees: Any graduate programs in the social sciences are certainly a possibility. Specifically, medical school, law school, computer science, and MBA programs focused on managing veterans are all possibilities.
Hannel: I could also see graduates pursuing master’s programs in the humanities, such as English, literature, psychology, or even going the education route.
Q: How can prospective students learn more about this new program?
A: Check out the veteran studies program page for more details on this exciting new bachelor’s program.