KUDOS: Veterans Services

KUDOS, Kutztown University’s Dedication to Outstanding Service, focuses on university administrative offices and the individuals within them, giving the campus community a look inside the working areas on campus.

This week, University Relations (UR) sat down with the Office of Veterans Services to get an inside look at the dedicated individuals who provide everything from GI Bill tuition benefits help, to snacks, to KU’s veteran and military affiliated students, staff and faculty.

UR: Would you introduce yourselves and tell us how long you’ve been with KU?

T: I am T. Brown (Tania Brown), I’m the coordinator of Veterans Services here at Kutztown University. I’ve been with KU since September 2001.

LR: I’m Lydia Rohrer. I’m a freshman here at Kutztown and a student worker in the Veterans Center.

CS: My name is Christine Nardone Storch. I am the graduate assistant for Veterans Services. I have been with KU since this summer of 2019. I started in June, but I have been associated with Kutztown University for approximately five years. My theater company, Talisman Players, is associated with the university so I’ve been here a while. I also attend as a student in the Master of Arts for counseling: marriage, couple and family program.

UR: What is your office’s role and mission at the university?

T: Our role and our mission, simply, is to assist our student veterans, military-affiliated students and family members of veterans that are using veterans’ benefits. Whatever need they have that can help advance their academic career, that’s what we do. We want to get them to that goal point of graduating, so they can start a career, give back to the community, better serve their families and also progress in the military, if they’re still serving. We want to help them accomplish all of that. We had our center’s open house in 2014 and ever since, we have received national recognition.

LR: Our role at the Veterans Center is to provide a safe environment for veterans and military-affiliated students. It’s really nice because working there, even though it’s only been two and a half months, I’ve seen everyone become a family. They talk about things that maybe non-military students wouldn’t be able to relate to. It’s nice to see them get comfortable.

CS: I think that our mission is to make things as easy as possible for our students that use the center in whatever way that we can. At least, that’s my mission.

UR: Can you explain your office’s staff make-up and responsibilities?

T: I am so happy to say that this is our first year that we have a full staff. I am really blessed because with a full staff, we are able to do so much more for this community.

With me is Christine Nardone Storch, our graduate assistant. She is phenomenal. She comes to us with an impressive theater and management background. When I interviewed her, I knew she had to be on my team to help me because we have so many events and so many programs. Having the right person, like her, to assist me with all the things that we do is critical. We really want to make a difference in student veterans and military-affiliated students’ lives, so we provide a lot of services.

Wolphy Joseph is our administrative assistant. She is shared between Connections Student Orientation and she also works with Veterans Services. I have been with KU since 2001 and before me coming over to Veterans Services, we were in Admissions. Wolphy was there with me. She is very good at taking direction and following through, which is so important because we always have moving pieces. To have someone that I can just rely on that I can say, “Wolphy, we have to get it done,” and she says “I’m with you, Ms. T. Let’s roll,” I love it.

Then, we have our three student workers. The only students we hire into this program are students who are using veterans’ affairs benefits. We have one who is a marine and two who are family members using their parents’ benefits. This is their first semester, all three of them. Under the direction of Christine and Wolphy and sometimes myself, they have done a phenomenal job. They just come in and make our jobs so much easier.

LR: I really appreciate that everyone cares about doing a good job, because then whatever job had to be done comes out nice and I can be proud of what I’m putting my time into.
I set up a lot of our displays around campus, which work as outreach as well as creating an environment of visibility for veterans and military-affiliated students, staff and faculty. I recently set up one in MSU right by the Cub Café. There’s one in the library and in the Multicultural Center right now. The displays make people aware. For example, last month was Hispanic Heritage Month. We had a display involving veterans and notable figures in the U.S. military who come from Hispanic heritages. It’s also really fun because I learn a lot of history while I am doing research to create the displays. November was Military Appreciation Month, so I got to interview many of our military students. We have pictures of them in both military uniform and civilian clothes and a little bio about them and their military branch. They really liked it.

CS: I look at my job as being T’s right hand. I try really hard to listen to her vision when it comes to the center. I think she has a really clear vision when it comes to a vision for the students and I try to facilitate that. In addition, I support our students in the center as best that I can. That means setting up events for them and for the university, providing food and working with our student staff. I think that’s my favorite part. They are very fun. I guide them in what needs to be done to facilitate that vision we are all working toward for the benefit of the center and the students we serve, making sure everything is running smoothly.

UR: How does your office serve students and the campus community?

T: The biggest support that we give to student veterans is assistance with their military benefits. There are so many benefits out there, but unfortunately when our student veterans go through basic training or are meeting with a recruiter, sometimes they are told “you’ll get this and you’ll be able to get this,” and in telling this to students, the impression they walk away with is that if they join the military, it will pay for the entire college education. That’s not the case. When they come to us, sometimes we do have to re-educate them. Helping them to navigate and make that process a little bit easier is our main job and one of the jobs that we love.

What’s hardest for me is when a student veteran comes into my office and they’ve been here a semester or two or more and they say, “I’ve been talking to my friends and they’re telling me about this benefit that I should be getting.” It hurts my heart because I’m thinking they could have been getting this all along. But that’s when we get into a high gear! Too simple, let’s get you squared away and those benefits will be rolling in. And guess what? They’re going to back-pay you too. Their eyes just open up like “Miss Brown, they’re going to back-pay me?” I say, “they certainly are.” They get excited and we get excited.

The other part is creating awareness for our student veterans. They’re not your average student. They come to class and want to get good grades, but these students they may have two or three additional jobs, sometimes full-time. They have families. Sometimes they have mortgages to pay. They have volunteerism that they are a part of and of course, they are often still serving in the military. So, there is a lot that they do in addition to their studies. They don’t always get to participate in activities or attend study groups with their class, but they still discipline themselves to make it happen, sometimes in the midst of getting called up by their units. They say, “we know you’re in school, but we need you over here for the next three weeks,” and when they come back, they have to catch up on their work. So, another part of our job is educating the campus. We have these valuable students. They are a small group of the nation’s finest, doing a lot more than many non-military students. I’m extremely passionate about being able to serve them, letting the campus know how great they are and making sure they get the support they need.

LR: It impacts the students so much more than I thought. Of course, the Office of Veterans Service is an important place on campus, but just being there every day and seeing the students come in and tell me about their day, how they’re doing, how an assignment is going, it’s such an important community. Even if they just want to come in and eat food from our hundreds of Tupperware containers or put their heads down to decompress, it’s really nice that our students have a place to do that which is just for them.

CS: I think our office serves the students tremendously. The better question would be how don’t we serve them? They can come in for pretty much anything and if we can help them, we do. Our staff will always go above and beyond. If the student workers can’t do something, they come to me. If I can’t do it, then we go to T. If T. can’t do it, then she will find a way to get it done. I think our students feel that, they know that. That strength that is behind them from having a Veterans Center is so empowering for them.

UR: What are the points of pride in your office?

T: In 2014, when the center first opened, it was just walls and dust. Looking at what it is now is such an accomplishment. We made it comfortable. We made it so that anyone who comes in there can just feel at home. At the core, our center is small, but it’s a mini-USO. We have a sense of family there. When our students walk in, they get a sense of friendliness and welcoming. We joke and there’s always food. That’s why people come. They can come in and be themselves and be supported. Another point of pride for me is my staff and our students because they go above and beyond, always. They bring a sense of life to the center.

LR: I would say our staff and our events. All of the events that we do are very well set up and executed. When I first joined the team, Miss T. said to me, “I am very extra. Everything has to be perfect.” And everything is perfect and it is extra, but there’s a reason. Our students and our veterans deserve it. The people who come to our events see it and appreciate it. The staff is like family. I am military-affiliated and also a freshman, so when I first began working at the Veterans Center I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be accepted super well by the students because I’m not a veteran myself. But they were very accepting.

CS: I have a lot of pride for our office. Part of having a good work environment is making sure that everyone feels valued as part of a team. That starts at the top. T. really makes sure that at the end of the day, she appreciates what we do for our students and the office. That type of attitude gets filtered down through me, who will then also tell our student-workers that we appreciate their work. That’s a point of pride, feeling like you have a place where your voice is heard and that our students have a place where their unique, military voices can be heard. There are some things that are specific to them that need to be heard, loud and clear. I feel like our office really tries to make sure that happens.

UR: What would you like people to know about your office that they may not know already?

T: Although we establish that we work really hard serving our military affiliated students, we also support our staff and our faculty. We are there for them. In the coming year, they will be seeing more initiatives that we are bringing to the university for the benefit of them. Even if you’re not a student, if you served or are currently serving, you can use our center as a resource. We are tapped into the local and national veterans’ organizations and community organizations that support veterans and their families. We receive a lot of information that can benefit our community as a whole. They can look to us and utilize us as a resource. We have a veteran that retired from here and he still calls us and still comes in to have us help him with his benefits paperwork. We are not authorized Veterans Affairs service officers, so the information that we give is never in summation of this is how it has to be done, but we are there to guide, answer questions or call Veterans Affairs or other resources to help them find the answers to their questions. We are here to support not just students, but staff and faculty as well.

LR: Look around for all of the art and the displays we have around campus which are really cool. I’m really glad we do them because I am an art student too; it’s nice to be able to incorporate that into the office. Also, we are nice people! Veterans and military-affiliated students can just stop in. We are a non-threatening place. I’ve talked to students who feel like being military-affiliated and not a veteran themselves, that coming in will be stepping on toes. No. Everyone is so nice. We have TV shows that we watch together, we always have food. Everyone is very warm and it’s an inviting environment. Christine especially makes everyone feel welcome.

CS: I think that people think our office and our workers are very serious, but we are jokesters and very down to earth. It’s fun to work here and to be in the center. We have ridiculous amounts of fun. Sometimes T. has to remind us that we are there to work and then she will start joking right along with us anyway.

UR: How can the campus community learn more or become involved with your office?

T: We get a lot of support from our community in general. Many offices and individuals, administration, faculty, staff, the auxiliary units that we have are always supporting us. We appreciate that. To know more, go to the Military and Veterans Services website. We are also working with our students to build up our social media presence. Right now, that is primarily Facebook, but soon we will also have a presence on Twitter and Instagram.

LR: We have a section on the Potty Paper. Look for signs and flyers we put up. Since I’ve started college, I’ve noticed there is a lot of free stuff, there’s so much food and so many events, if you just look around at the bulletin board flyers and websites. Or just stop by the center and ask what we can do for you.

CS: Stop in and see us! Come visit, ask questions. I think they should seek out the veteran and military-affiliated students in their classrooms. Staff and faculty can take our Green Zone Training to figure out how you can be sensitive to veteran and military-affiliated students around you. Green Zone Training is a series which teaches faculty and staff, along with our students, about veteran specific issues. For instance, if you have a student who always sits in the back of your classroom and is very quiet, your instinct may be to encourage them to come in closer and participate more, but that student may be doing that because they want to sit near a door and there are specific reasons for that. Green Zone Training is done throughout the year. We have different events where you can sign up and then you’ll be invited to further training events. Look on our website and social media, as well as postings around the campus for when we are having training. You can call our office to register.

UR: What’s your favorite thing about your KU experience?

T: My favorite thing about my KU experience is how beautiful it is. I love the look, I love the feeling. We have beautiful artwork. It’s a fully embodied experience. No matter where I go, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t learn something new. If I’m the same tomorrow as I was yesterday, then I’m doing something wrong. Here at KU, you get to really put yourself out there and experience the people, the programs, the services and we are always learning and always growing.

LR: Honestly, my job and I really love the art program. It’s the main reason I decided to come to Kutztown. As soon as I walked into Sharadin, I felt like it was my place, these are my people. It’s so inspiring just being in art classes with talented peers and professors and the campus is gorgeous.

CS: The relationships I’ve formed, the people I meet, five years ago to today. I’m a people-person. I really like meeting people. I like understanding the human condition. I like people sharing their stories or even not sharing their stories, just getting to know where they are right now. I feel like KU is such a good place to meet people and form relationships, passing relationships to lifelong relationships. They are all valuable in some way. KU really does a good job facilitating those connections.

UR: What does “It’s Good to be Golden” mean to you?

T: It means you’re good to go. It’s alright. You come to KU for school or work, your experience is going to be golden. Our mission is to prepare everyone who comes through our doors to leave more informed, knowledgeable and closer to reaching their potential. As we get closer to reaching our own individual potentials, that, in itself, is golden. We’re prepared, we’re good to go forward and make a difference in the world.

LR: I really think “it’s good to be golden” means doing your best and then adding 10%. Do the best that you can and put in an extra hour to make it perfect.

CS: It just means to shine. Do your own shining, in your own way. Everyone’s light is different. We can all benefit from basking in each other’s glow.

 

KUDOS is published twice monthly by the office of University Relations. All issues can be found at www.kutztown.edu/KUDOS. For questions or more information, please contact University Relations at UR@kutztown.edu.