University of North Carolina System Supports Student Veterans and Staff
By Siobhan Norris
The University of North Carolina System Office
When I left the U.S. Army, I felt like I lost my community and my identity. However, I soon found that being a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree allowed me to adopt a new identity, a new community, and a new mission. My story is not unique—it’s a common feeling among the men and women who transition from the armed forces.
For our nearly 14,000 military-affiliated students, the University of North Carolina System is a place where they can easily transition from active duty service—a place where they can find the right path to their next chapter at any one of our 16 university campuses throughout the state or through any of the hundreds of programs available through our UNC Online platform.
The UNC System enjoys a long history of doing things first. UNC-Chapel Hill is the first public university. The UNC School of Science and Mathematics is the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students. The North Carolina Science Fair, produced by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Morehead Planetarium & Science Center, is the statewide science festival in the United States.
More recently, we are the first higher education system to partner with PsychArmor.
Recently, the UNC System and PsychArmor Institute signed a memorandum of understanding, which brings PsychArmor’s specialized resources to cultivate campus awareness and sensitivity about military experiences and culture.
This partnership is helping us to be more efficient in our training while allowing us to provide quality resources and support for our military student population. The new partnership is creating a better awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing service members, veterans, and military spouses who are students.
As a program manager for Military and Veteran Education with the UNC System, and as a former student myself, I have witnessed the transformation that is possible when faculty and students understand each other. When our faculty increase their own knowledge through PsychArmor’s courses, they will develop their military cultural competency and enhance their ability to serve our students.
This partnership reflects the UNC System’s broad support for this unique student population. The University recognizes that it’s challenging, maybe even a little scary, to transition out of the service and enter the world of academia. We recognize how critical it is to ensure that our students have resources and culturally competent faculty and staff to support their success.
Research from Student Veterans of America shows that student veterans with a bachelor’s degree earn on average $17,000 more annually than their non-veteran student peers with the same educational attainment. Moreover, student veterans earn higher GPAs than non-veteran students—3.34 versus 2.94 respectively. Student veterans from all across the country also graduate at higher rates from various institutions of higher learning, including top Ivy League schools. Simply stated, military students are a smart investment.
Addressing the needs of military-affiliated students has been a priority for the UNC System Board of Governors, through its Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs. The committee has met regularly, providing a forum where students, faculty, and administrators can discuss and address issues of our military-affiliated students.
Another way we are increasing our capacity to meet military-affiliated students’ needs is with our monthly Military Affairs Working Group. Additionally, we are holding our inaugural Strategic Approach to Military Student Success training on Oct. 11, which supports education on military cultural competency within the UNC universities and also our state’s 58 community colleges. By providing opportunities for subject matter expert training, networking, and sharing of best practices, this workshop will enhance faculty and staff’s ability to better serve our state’s military student population. With support from generous funders, we hope to convene in this way every year, so that no military-affiliated student ever feels lost like I did so many years ago.
Below is a diagram of how our System provides comprehensive training and support for our students and employees:
As an advocate for military-affiliated students, I encourage any faculty and staff member who has not served to consider increasing your own military cultural competency so that you can give back to students who have given our nation so much. I encourage you to help build the UNC System’s capacity to understand how it supports this specific population so that, together, we can determine how to make our University even stronger and more receptive. You can start by taking PsychArmor’s courses and build from there.
About the author
Siobhan Norris is the program manager, Military and Veteran Education, with the University of North Carolina System Office. Norris is proud to be a member of a family that can date their military involvement back to the Civil War. She is the granddaughter of a decorated WWII Marine Corps veteran, is married to a U.S. Army Black Hawk Aviator, and is herself a veteran of the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Arts in Conflict Management and Resolution. Her professional background includes non-profit management, higher education, and public speaking. You can read more about her in “GI Jobs” magazine.