Supporting Military Spouses at UNK

Posted: May 23, 2018 12:25:00 PM CDT

campus flags photoThe month of May is Military Appreciation Month, recognizing military servicemembers as well as the spouses who support them—a group that also shares a deep commitment to serving their country. For nearly 35 years, the nation has celebrated Military Spouse Appreciation Day, established by President Ronald Reagan, to honor the service and leadership of military spouses.

We asked Lori Weed Skarka, Assistant Director of Military and Veteran Services, to provide insight about military spouses in education and how the University of Nebraska at Kearney supports them, whether on campus or online.

Describe what it means to be a military spouse.

The term “military spouse” is a very broad term to describe who the spouses could be. Spouses could be male or female, and both could be serving in the military. One of the most important things to remember is that the formula for success in school isn’t going to be the same for everyone. Depending on where the servicemember is in their military career, their spouse could be experiencing something very different than another military spouse.

A spouse whose servicemember is in the Reserves will experience the Reservist being gone for training on weekends or for two weeks per year. Occasionally, schedules will need to be adjusted but since being a Reservist isn’t a full-time military job, the Reservist typically has a civilian position and isn’t required to relocate for his/her military service.

A spouse whose servicemember is on Active Duty in the U.S. experiences frequent absences of their spouse due to constant military training, changes to where they live, possible preparations for deployment, which mean constant changes in the calendar.

A spouse whose servicemember is deployed balances family responsibilities, school, work, and military life and has to adapt to the absence of support from the deployed spouse.

A spouse with a post-deployment servicemember experiences adapting and adjusting to the return of the deployed spouse and in some cases provides care for a servicemember returning home with mental and physical injuries.

What are the specific concerns or struggles for military spouses who go back to school on campus or online?

A military spouse experiences some unique challenges that many college students won’t encounter. While it’s different for each spouse, some of the most common challenges are: 1) transferring credits across state lines if the schools don’t have a transfer agreement, 2) trying to complete a degree with so many interruptions due to relocation, 3) not having the same program in the new location, 4) finding an accredited school and programs approved for VA education benefits, and 5) not having a military-based education center nearby to assist them with their educational goals.

It may take longer to complete a degree because of putting school on hold due to frequently changing locations and financial obligations. Time management and finding time to study, and a lack of understanding by civilians about military life, can also be a challenge.

The absence of a servicemember who is away for training or is deployed requires the spouse to find a balance with work, school, and family, and to select a degree that is adaptable to military life, which has transferable skills. In research done by the National Military Family Association, 37% of the respondents reported that being a military spouse affected their career and education choice. Finding and keeping a job, securing reliable daycare, and learning their way around a new community are also challenging.

What student services, resources, or support structures are in place for military spouses at UNK?

What’s great about UNK is that we are able to provide the same services to our military spouses as to all of our students. Depending on what the student needs, we’re able to connect them to someone within the specific department who will provide the personal service we are proud to offer.

One of the most important things we provide is a primary point of contact and an office dedicated to our Military and Veteran students. I work with our students who have a military connection and assist them with questions about UNK and their military education benefits. The laws regarding military education benefits are complex, and I help them understand the connection between their benefits and their academic goals. As their advocate, I provide information on UNK academic policies, campus and community resources, and work with the branches of the military as well as state and federal agencies to address their concerns.

UNK also participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is an agreement with the Veterans Administration to fund tuition and fees expenses for qualified students that exceed the tuition and fee amounts payable under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

A few more ways UNK is able to assist students who are military spouses includes: 1) The Registrar’s Office provides a transfer guide, which lists courses that will transfer to UNK and has a staff member who is responsible for reviewing and evaluating incoming transcripts. 2) The Counseling Center provides counseling with licensed counselors who have advanced training in understanding military culture. 3) Students who declare a major are assigned to a faculty advisor, and those who are deciding meet with the Academic Advising Center. 4) When students are admitted, they’re assigned a personal Financial Aid counselor.

How does UNK collaborate to ensure that military students and their spouses/families are represented, heard, and academically successful? 

It really takes a team to assist our military students and their families. The entire Division of Academic and Student Affairs should be recognized for their work with our students. My position requires a great deal of collaboration with the campus community, and I depend on the departments for their knowledge and expertise. It is with their assistance that I’m able to successfully advocate for our students.

Some recent efforts include the Student Veterans Organization (SVO), which is a student organization on campus that is open to veterans, their families, and friends who support our military students. It’s fairly new, and we’re working to strengthen the membership. The goal is to use it as a way of bringing our military students together and providing them the opportunity to get involved on campus.

We’re also searching for the ideal location on campus for our Military and Veteran Center, which will provide a space for our students to take a break between classes, meet other military-connected students, obtain assistance with academic issues, and have a place they can call their own.

Thank you to the military spouses, the silent heroes who support our servicemembers and who have committed to serving our country just like their loved ones.

View the military and veteran services at UNK that can help military-connected students get started in on-campus programs or online programs.

By: Rosanna Vail

Category: General, eCampus

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