Each year on November 11, Veterans Day, a federal holiday, honors military veterans of the United States Armed Forces. This year, the Veterans Educational Training (VET) program is able to conduct an in-person Veterans Day ceremony on campus for the first time since the pandemic hit.
The event will take place in the Memorial Union at 8:30 a.m. on Thurs, Nov. 10. For those that can’t attend, watch for a Veterans Day video message from NDSU President David Cook through NDSU’s, VALOR’s, or the Bison Student Veterans’ social media pages.
“We typically have someone from the administration give an opening, and then we bring in a staff member, a faculty member or an alumni who has military experience and talk about what it’s like to be a veteran associated with NDSU,” said Assistant Director of the VET program and retired Air Force Officer Jim Stoddard. “And then the ROTC detachments from NDSU. We’ll do a flag raising ceremony outside the union at the flag poles there.”
The VET program, housed in NDSU and funded by the state of North Dakota, is a free program of study aimed to help veterans continue their education to enroll in a two-year, or four-year college degree, or a vocational or technical training program.
Because the program is located on NDSU’s campus, it is often mistaken that the program’s focus is only on veterans that attend NDSU, but Stoddard says they help veterans statewide.
“So we’re managed here at NDSU, and this is where we physically sit. But our focus is really on any veteran throughout North Dakota and whatever school they want to get into,” said Stoddard. “That’s a little bit of something that’s maybe not always as obvious to people.”
The VET also partners with the veterans offices at the other schools around the state.
“These offices help veterans make the transition from their military experience. Once they get here, we help them feel connected and supported in a way that is effective for them,” Stoddard said.
Because of the program’s limited budget, Stoddard is a “one person show” along with a couple of student workers to assist the program. The program does not have a specific location except for a small computer lab located on the third floor of Ceres Hall that is dedicated to veterans.
“We do our best to publicize that the computer lab is there and available for veterans,” said Stoddard. “It’s not super convenient, but it’s there, and it’s a place where the veterans can go and just feel like, ‘okay, this is our space on campus for now.”
Stoddard says they are working with NDSU President David Cook to identify a good place where veterans can easily access the programs and resources offered at NDSU.
“It is definitely on our list of priorities,” said Stoddard. “And President Cook is open to the idea of establishing a center like that in the near future.”
Another improvement for veterans on campus is the Bison Student Veterans Organization that now has up to 40 members.
“The program and organization allows veterans on campus to see they’re not the only ones. Sometimes, nontraditional college students can feel out of place in small group assignments where other students are all significantly younger than they are,” said Stoddard. “Someone in a position like that can feel like ‘gosh, what am I doing? I’m, like, so out of place. I don’t know how to connect with my classmates. I’m even older than my instructor sometimes.’ But then they can get together in these groups and say, ‘okay, yeah, I’m not the only one.’”
For nontraditional students like Craig Schwinden, a current Emergency Management student who served as an aircraft loadmaster for 20 years, coming back into the education world was a bit of an adjustment.
“The first class I showed up to, I grabbed a notebook and a couple of pens,” said Schwinden. “And as I’m sitting there, ready to go, the younger people start rolling in and begin pulling out their laptops. I couldn’t keep up and I thought ‘wow, I didn’t think about that.’ But you know, my last educational experience was paper and pencil.”
Students and faculty at NDSU can participate in Veterans Day events to learn more about and meet veterans in the community.
“I think it’s important to show our support and appreciation for veterans’ willingness to take time out of their lives, or take detours, to help out in cases of natural disasters or other security events that veterans need to respond to,” said Stoddard. “It really helps the military missions to know that the public appreciates the value that the military training brings back to their community.”