Celebrating and Supporting Veterans

Jan 30, 2019

As a certified Yellow Ribbon School, Assumption now offers a number of new on-campus services for Veterans. Assumption is on track to become a Military Friendly® School where Veterans, active service members, and their families find a warm welcome.

Brian Alloway ’20 joined the Marines after high school because “I wanted to do something notable with my time,” he said. After eight years and deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, he left active duty and decided to use his GI Bill ® to further his education. A friend and fellow Marine, Matthew Casey ’17, encouraged him to apply to Assumption. 

“I had a tough go of things at first,” Alloway said. “I was 10 years older than most of the other students and I had emotional fallout I hadn’t dealt with after serving. My academics really suffered.” Mike Rubino, J.D., Ed.D. and general counsel for Assumption, understands firsthand how tough it can be for many Veterans to make the transition from combat zone to university. He, too, was a Marine who wanted to continue his education after his tour of duty. “You feel like a fish out of water,” he said. “There are so many issues you have to deal with, and everything is complicated by the fact that Veterans are often too proud or self-conscious to ask for help. We’re trained to be self-sufficient.”

Rubino entered the Marines directly after high school and served in Vietnam for most of 1968 and 1969. Upon his return, he applied to a state institution of higher learning and was rejected because he hadn’t taken the SAT. He next tried a community institution of higher learning, but they had already capped the coming year’s enrollment.

A Veteran’s agent eventually helped Rubino find a Veteran friendly junior university, where he spent two years before transferring to a four-year institution. He went on to get both a doctoral degree and law degree in Boston. As a certified Yellow Ribbon School, Assumption now offers a number of new on-campus services for Veterans. Assumption is on track to become a Military Friendly® School where Veterans, active service members, and their families find a warm welcome.

Thankfully, today there is a better understanding of how to help Veterans recover from combat-related physical injuries and emotional issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, Rubino noted. And, with more government resources available, it’s possible for today’s Veterans to be “caught in a safety net before falling downstream,” said Rubino, who now chairs the Veterans Success Committee at Assumption to help Veterans and their families better navigate university life.

The committee was established two years ago when former Associate Professor of Management Gene Diodati, M.B.A., a Vietnam Veteran and Marine, was approached by Alloway and Casey. “Prof. Diodati encouraged us to talk to Provost Louise Carol Keeley about how we’d like to see Assumption do more for Veterans,” Alloway said.

The provost immediately agreed. Shortly afterward, the Veterans Success Committee was formed (see sidebar). Its members, who include administrative, faculty, and student Veterans, have been working hard toward establishing several important new initiatives to enhance Veterans’ services on campus.

A Place Just for Veterans

Missing from campus was a place for Veterans to meet each other, study, and learn about Assumption’s resources. “The other student organizations had their own areas or offices, but there was no place just for Veterans,” said Alloway. “We wanted to make sure we got that on the map.”

After reviewing available spaces on campus, the Veterans Success Committee chose adjoining rooms 125 and 126 in the IT Building to renovate and transform into the Veterans’ Lounge. Centrally located, the Veterans’ Lounge has one room designated as a study area with windows overlooking the piazza in front of the Tsotsis Family Academic Center. The other room is a lounge with comfortable furniture and a large-screen television. 
“It feels really good to know these facilities will be here for Veterans who come to Assumption after we’re gone,” said Alloway.

As Assumption has provided new facilities for Veterans, it has also expanded academic programming to educate individuals to provide for Veterans’ specific and unique needs.

Special Ops: SMVF Program

With more than 1.9 million U.S. service members deployed since 2001, there is a growing need for human services professionals who are well versed in issues affecting service members, Veterans, and their families (SMVF).

When Chairperson of the Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies (HSRS) Department Susan Scully-Hill, Ph.D., whose father was a Marine Corps Veteran, was asked by Assumption about the possibility of developing an educational program that would prepare behavioral health professionals to work with Veterans and service members transitioning back into civilian life, she began researching existing programs and “found very few that offered effective training for counselors, psychologists, social workers, etc.,” she said. “We concluded that developing such a program would fulfill an important need. And what better institution than Assumption, with a mission dedicated to service, to provide such a program?”

Nicholas J. Cioe, Ph.D., director of Rehabilitation Counseling, has never served in the military, but his father did. His father’s experiences and Prof. Cioe’s own research on brain injury rehabilitation led him to become interested in helping Veterans thrive in civilian life. Together with Prof. Scully-Hill, “We started
circling the wagons and informing ourselves on how we could better serve Veterans.”

With this mission in mind, Profs. Scully-Hill and Cioe, along with Visiting Professor Lea Christo, attended an immersion program where they stayed in military barracks, dressed in military gear, and participated in marches and drills to gain an understanding of the culture and lived experience of service members. These
exercises were interspersed with informational presentations and personal narratives by Veterans and active-duty officers.

“This program helps people who haven’t served in the military understand what some of the biggest issues are for Veterans,” said Prof. Cioe. “That was important for us, because we strive for all Assumption students, including Veterans, to have a rewarding and positive experience.” One new initiative to emerge from these conversations is a certificate program “specifically designed to help individuals acquire the skills to meet the needs of post-9/11 Veterans,” said Prof. Cioe.

In May, HSRS will offer a post-bachelor’s degree certificate program and a certificate of advanced graduate study for students whose goal is to provide services and support to service members, Veterans, and military families. Except for the Kentucky Operation Immersion program, these programs are completely online, and all students are encouraged to participate.

When Profs. Cioe, Christo, and Scully-Hill were invited to the Pentagon by Major General Catalanotti (U.S. Army, Ret.) ’80, HD ’15, a member of Assumption’s Board of Trustees and a senior advisor for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, to meet key behavioral health professionals for the Veterans Administration (VA) and to share the graduate certificate proposal, the feedback was “exceptionally positive,” said Rubino. Over the summer, these certificate programs were approved by the VA for GI Bill ® reimbursement. 

According to Major Gen. Catalanotti, a Veteran-friendly institution must “never stop building excellence in every form.” He added that an “institution must be true to its word that they are military friendly and want to help and support the Veteran.” In addition to having a support system and counseling available to Veterans, they should feel welcomed and included. “[An institution must] create a very positive climate of caring and showing gratitude that an Assumption Veteran stepped up and served either in duty or in combat.” 

Better Communications and Fewer Obstacles to Success

Major Gen. Catalanotti said that a Veteran-friendly institution should handle government grants in a timely manner. Payments from the GI Bill ® typically arrive after the payment deadlines posted by the institution. This has presented an obstacle for some Veterans when paying their tuition. The Veterans Success Committee worked with the Finance, Registrar’s, and Financial Aid offices to create a Veteran-friendly financial interface to prevent this from happening. 

In addition, Assumption is improving communication between Veteran alumni, Veteran students, and the institution. For instance, the committee is developing a Veterans Alumni Registry that will allow Veteran alums to contact each other and help student Veterans as they graduate and take the next step into careers or graduate school. In the near future, the committee hopes to strengthen and expand ROTC programs for students considering military careers. Assumption currently has an Army ROTC program, and is exploring the possibility of expanding opportunities for students by providing a Navy ROTC program as well. 

Many Assumption faculty members will also be trained to provide mentoring to Veteran students. “We have professors with military experience who will act as our first line of advisors,” said Prof. Cioe. “Our hope is that, over time, we will continue to provide additional education for all faculty.” The committee is developing a training program for faculty members interested in learning how to better mentor Veteran students and help them overcome obstacles to academic success. 

“These new initiatives are all welcome,” said Alloway, who is now on track to graduate with a sociology major and management minor, thanks in large part to the community support he has discovered at Assumption. “Honestly, the most important thing is finding people who will listen to us, and listen intently, because it’s not always easy for us to talk about things.”

 To inquire about the Veterans’ initiatives at Assumption, please send a message to veteranssuccess@assumption.edu.