In the army there is a saying: “The most heroic things you will do in life, no one will know.”
And as this marks a decade of service, the team at UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center (MVSC) has worked with returning heroes to ensure their transition from military to college life is smooth. as family friendly as possible.
When the center was founded in 2012, UNLV became one of the first schools in the nation to have a dedicated service center for veterans to help them access their military benefits for tuition and housing.
But this solid foundation was built on humble beginnings. The center began as a veteran student organization in 2009, under the leadership of Robert Ackerman, Sally Casper, and Liz Baldizan.
“Every school now has someone processing benefits,” said Ross Bryant, a US Army veteran and executive director of MVSC. “But what they don’t always have is a center staffed with veterans and military family members where you walk into that office and feel like you’re part of a family.”
Everything that’s necessary
Readjusting to civilian life can be a whirlwind and places like MVSC help make it meaningful. Program partners such as Peer Advisors Veteran Education (PAVE), Rebel Vets Organization, VetSuccess, and Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) provide counseling for health insurance, mental health, mentoring, and beyond.
“After leaving the military and coming to college, it’s daunting,” Bryant said. “So it becomes a place that you feel comfortable with, has a military feel to it, and has veterans here to help, train and help you.”
To date, UNLV has helped more than 8,000 military-affiliated students start their studies. This includes active duty, National Guard, reservists, veterans and family members of military with transferred benefits – with approximately 1,600 courses currently.
“I was looking for people I could relate to and improve in what I planned to do,” said Frank Vizza, a Navy veteran and UNLV student majoring in social work. “I had heard that UNLV was great for veterans and as I went through the schools I noticed that. But honestly I didn’t expect it to be at the level it was at and that was overwhelming how awesome it is.
And that’s not all to talk about, either – the UNLV center earned a “Gold-Rank” for an R1 research institution on the list of military-friendly schools and has a 70% graduation rate among the student-veteran population. The accolades don’t end there, as UNLV student veterans have twice been named Veteran Student of the Year by Veteran Students of America.
The military is in the business of respect, a concept dear to UNLV because it is one of the only campuses to have a memorial honoring the service of the dead. He also, in partnership with state and federal elected officials, helped pass laws to save tuition and housing allowances for veterans.
“It’s easy for them to get lost in ten years of history, but these are incredible accomplishments that we’re very proud to be a part of,” Bryant said.
Notably, the center advocated for the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act, and a rebellious vet named Reuben D’Silva led the charge by passing the Purple Heart Education Bill.
“I had great mentors in the military who took me from private to major, and you can never repay those people,” Bryant said. “But you can mentor another generation of people. Ten years later: this center and especially the graduates are what fills me.