As Veterans Day approaches, Fordham is gearing up to officially welcome its student veterans to the University with a Nov. 9 reception in Tognino Hall. The third annual Fordham Veterans Welcome will likely be much bigger than the first. The number of student veterans and their dependents has grown to nearly 250 since the FordhamVets initiative began in 2009. And after President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of this year, administrators for the program expect enrollment numbers to continue to rise.
“We have seen increases every semester,” said Michael Gillan, Ph.D., associate vice president at the Lincoln Center campus, who co-chairs the Fordham Veterans Task Force with Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Social Service, “and we assume that will accelerate as a result of the president’s very welcome announcement.”
This fall, 67 new students enrolled at Fordham using benefits from the August 2009 Post-9/11 GI Bill and the optional Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program—by which colleges and universities can fund up to 50 percent of tuition and fees not covered by the basic GI Bill, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will match the school’s contribution.
When changes to the GI Bill last January introduced a national cap on VA benefits, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, pledged that, unlike many schools, Fordham would continue to cover 50 percent of the remaining tuition for all admissible veterans and their dependants, despite increased costs to the university.
“That has really put us in a leadership position,” said Gillan.
Philip D’Afflisio said he chose Fordham “when I found out how happy to have vets Fordham was.” After three counterintelligence tours in Afghanistan, D’Afflisio, 26, sought out a rigorous education marked with new experiences. “In the Jesuit tradition, I knew [Fordham] would challenge my mind, which is what I was looking for,” he said.
In his first semester at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, where roughly half of Fordham’s student vets are enrolled, D’Afflisio has already begun writing about his memories of Afghanistan in a composition course, and attended a downtown poetry reading with his classmates. “I haven’t been to too many poetry readings in the military,” he joked.
The faculty respects that the veterans’ perspective is not that of a typical student, D’Afflisio said, noting that, given his time at war, he can’t relate to fellow students’ stress over things like fashion choices, or even midterm grades. “I can never experience that.”
Gillan and Vaughan have introduced several initiatives to help ease the transition of veterans like D’Afflisio and meet their unique needs. At orientation afternoons, vets learn not only about Fordham’s student services, but also those of VA Health Care and community veteran centers. Awareness-building workshops run by the VA Medical Center’s counseling staff will help prepare Fordham faculty members to deal with issues facing veterans in their classes. These and other efforts have earned the University the No. 34 spot in Military Times EDGE magazine’s national list of the top 100 “veteran friendly” colleges and universities.
“We’ve tried to embrace [student veterans]and surround them with support,” said Gillan, who would like to see Fordham alumni veterans become more involved with the program as it grows.
Students have also worked to help each other adjust to campus life. Daniel Hodd, a junior in the Gabelli School of Business, enrolled just weeks after his final tour of duty in 2009. He spent three years as an active duty Marine, including two deployments to Iraq.
“One of the biggest challenges that I had as a vet and an older student” said Hodd, 28, “was negotiating the school.” So he started Armed Forces at Fordham, a student group focused on “passing relevant information to each other, and to those interested in coming to the school.” The group also hosts social events; a recent gathering at Lincoln Park Bar & Grill drew about 30 students.
An audio engineer and a former music student, Hodd became interested in business as a way to use leadership skills he’d developed in the service. This year he’s participating in the Edge4Vets transition support workshop series, which was developed by the Graduate School of Education to help veterans turn their military skills into tools for success in civilian life. Gillan will call on alumni with military experience to help lead some of the workshops.
Hodd has already found a way to marry his leadership and business skills with his love or music engineering. As an operations manager at WFUV, he records live music sessions with artists such as k.d. lang and Feist. But he also took the time to institute a quality control process for the station’s live recordings before they go to production. “The end result is better audio leaving our department,” he said, “and fewer requests for examination when the content is used, which could be months down the line.”
Some Fordham student veterans have become focused on international work, said Gillan, as a result of being stationed overseas. Sarah Scarcelli, GSAS ’11, served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force in Germany from 2003 to 2008, with deployments to Qatar and Kosovo. As an intelligence officer, she developed an interest in international policy while studying conflicts in Africa and Europe. “I realized they might not have been conflicts,” said Scarcelli, 31, “if the underlying issues had been resolved earlier.” When she returned home, she enrolled in Fordham’s International Policy and Economic Development (IPED) program. Today she is a presidential management fellow with the State Department, working with American companies hoping to do business in Africa.
With a variety of interests, lifestyles and schedules, student vets can be found on all three Fordham campuses, and at all 10 schools. Professors are happy to have them in class, said Gillan. “They want to know, ‘How can I get more?’” he said, “because they are excellent students. They’re very disciplined and committed.”
All Fordham alumni veterans are invited to the Veterans Welcome reception on Nov. 9. To RSVP, or to find out how to get involved with the FordhamVets initiative, contact Michael Gillan firstname.lastname@example.org.