That first semester in college is a different experience for many veterans, and a new course being offered at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point this year hopes to address some of the back-to-school issue they are facing.
David Chrisinger is a UW-Stevens Point graduate that developed a veterans-only class called “Back From The Front.” He says the inspiration for the course came from a friend from Rhinelander who struggled to return to civilian life after serving in the military. “The kinds of issues that a 17 or 18-year-old is going to have to grapple with when they start college are very different than what a student veteran will grapple with, so I put together this class to help the students acclimate to the university, to connect with each other, and to learn how to be successful here.”
Chrisinger says the experiences freshmen out of high school have are vastly different from freshmen out of the military, and they discuss how to apply what they’ve learned in uniform to the new task of completing an education. “One thing that we work on in our classes is to show that they can use their experience to enlighten the class and to add a very valuable voice to certain discussions, and to use their experiences to make their experiences in college that much better.”
Much of the class is focused on the history of war, writing and running to help transition from military life to college life. “This first semester, what we really wanted to do was to give the students a place where they could connect with each other, and we could build an environment where the students felt comfortable and safe enough to talk about their experiences and to deal with the sorts of issues and challenges that many of them face coming back to the university.”
All college students go through a “first-year seminar” aimed at helping students think critically, adapt to the academic community and campus life, and take responsibility for their education, career choices and personal development. Chrisinger says the veterans entering college that make the transition a little difficult, but they also have a huge head start in some important areas. “Something I had not thought about was how advanced these students would be in certain areas. You know, they have incredible critical thinking skills. They do know how to get their work done. They do know the discipline. They pay attention. They show up to class early, you know, all of those things that a professor dreams about, they’re doing that stuff.”
UW Stevens Point is considered a “military friendly” campus, and has about 300 veterans enrolled in a wide variety of degree programs.