Veteran-friendly college

PAUL SMITHS – State Sen. Betty Little says other colleges could learn a lot from Paul Smith’s when it comes to fostering a veteran-friendly atmosphere.

Little, a Republican from Queensbury, visited Paul Smith’s College on Wednesday, meeting with members of the Veterans Club to learn more about what the college is doing right. About a dozen students who served in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered in one of the college’s kitchen classrooms for an informal discussion with the senator, who has two sons who serve in the military.

Little said the state Legislature has, in recent years, worked with the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to make college campuses more veteran-friendly.

“You’re not all in the same mode as the freshman who may come here right out of high school,” she said. “You have different ambitions and certainly have had more experiences in life than they have had. … There are some campuses who don’t really do anything to make their programs more veteran-friendly, or to even acknowledge veterans and their service.”

In 2012, Paul Smith’s was named to G.I. Jobs magazine’s “Military Friendly Schools” list for the third year in a row. The list is produced by Victory Media using research and surveys of more than 12,000 academic institutions nationwide. In the end, fewer than 1,800 institutions made the cut, and Paul Smith’s ranked among the top 15 percent.

So what is Paul Smith’s doing that thousand of other colleges aren’t?

Amy Tuthill, director of veteran and transfer services at Paul Smith’s, told the Enterprise that the biggest thing the college does is cater to the unique needs of veterans, many of whom are several years older than the average college freshman. She said some veterans already have families when they start their college careers, while others are dealing with the physical and emotional scars of war. Many veterans work full-time jobs, she added.

Tuthill’s office serves as a “one-stop shop” for the nearly 40 veterans and active-duty reservists at Paul Smith’s. She said she helps those students navigate the intricacies of the post-9/11 GI Bill.

“Back in ’09 when we saw that veterans were identifying themselves as veterans and looking to add us with the GI Bill in mind, the college decided, ‘OK, we need somebody who will take that on who can really dig into the bill,’ because there’s a lot of nuances with the bill,” Tuthill said.

She said people with military backgrounds are used to having a “point person” – someone they can go to for help on a variety of issues.

“When they come to me, if I don’t know the answer to their question, instead of saying, ‘Well, go ask so-and-so,’ I’ll say to them, ‘Let’s find out,'” she said. “So I either go with them, or I make a phone call or I make a visit, and I let them know. They’re not being directed in a thousand different directions. They’re given that attention that they are looking for.”

The college also brings a state veterans’ affairs counselor to campus once a month, Tuthill said.

Veterans themselves say they like the services Paul Smith’s provides, but it’s the camaraderie they’ve found through the Veterans Club that’s made the transition from the military to academia a bit easier. Richard Tryder is a junior from West Milford, N.J. He served in Iraq with the Marine Corps.

“Sometimes, as a veteran, you come to a campus or you come to a school and you feel kind of outcasted a bit,” he said. “You like to be around people you can relate with and talk with. I think coming to Paul Smith’s and knowing that they already had a veterans club is great.”

Veterans at Paul Smith’s also turn to each other for peer mentoring. Tim Kempf is a junior from Buffalo who served in the Army.

“Nothing against 18-year-olds, but chances are tutoring from a 25-year-old that’s been through war would be a lot more beneficial to veterans,” he said.

Derek Sprague, a sophomore from Hyde Park, Vt., who served in the Marines, said servicemen and women share a specific set of skills that they use to learn, whether they’re training for battle or in the classroom.

“A veteran might be willing to tutor a veteran, but not an 18-year-old, where you don’t know if he’s going to be on time, doesn’t know if he’s going to be there,” he said. “Whereas with a veteran, you kind of expect some initiative along with it as well.”

Veterans said they hope the college will give them a space for a veterans lounge. Currently, the club meets in classrooms.

Little said the recently adopted state budget “does some good things for veterans.” The Division of Veterans’ Affairs’ allocation was increased, she said, and employers who hire veterans for at least a year can claim a 10 percent tax credit – a potential savings of up to $10,000 a year.