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Enlisted space and community are the Military Outreach Center’s priority

Photo Courtesy by Corey Motta

Military Times recently ranked Georgia State No. 11 as the Best College for Vets. Georgia State currently enrolls more than 3,500 military-connected students, which Georgia State boasts is “more than any other state school.”

Military Outreach Centers (MOC), located on all Georgia State campuses, distribute information on veteran benefits and provide community.

The ranking is based on a survey from current and former service members and their families on the military services provided at their institute. The Military Times then factored data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, in addition to three Department of Education sources: the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database.

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Georgia State was evaluated in five categories: university culture, academic outcomes and quality, student support, academic policies, cost and financial aid.

Georgia State’s Military Outreach Director Mark Eister attributes the university’s recognition to the interconnected community among other colleges.

“Our mission is to provide anything and everything a military-connected student might need to succeed and reach their academic goals, to include peer-to-peer mentoring, scholarships, resources, connections, and camaraderie,” Eister said.

The university houses Military Outreach Centers on all six campuses, each employing several service members.

“I served in the military for over 21 years. So, coming to Georgia State (then Georgia Perimeter College) nearly seven years ago to build and develop a Military Outreach program was, and still is, truly a dream job,” Eister said.

Based on a study by Steffany Fredman et. al from the American Psychological Association, large numbers of United States service members and veterans enrolling in college experience posttraumatic stress symptoms related to their military service. The study showed academic dysfunction as a risk factor among student service members and veterans who experience these symptoms.

Yet, the study showed that significant indirect effects of posttraumatic stress on academic dysfunction were greater in those with lower social network support.

The Military Outreach Center seeks to counteract academic dysfunction with community.

“The Military Outreach Center staff and I have the opportunity to serve and assist our nation’s heroes by helping them transition from military life to college and civilian life, ultimately leading to earning their college degree and securing meaningful employment,” Eister said.

Laurent M. Dossou, a medical logistics specialist in the army, has had a positive experience thus far with the MOC .

“I know I made the right choice choosing Georgia State. Their Military Outreach department understands military students and they are providing the support I need to get my degree,” Dossou said.

Victoria Nails, who has been enlisted in the army since Nov. 13, 2015, attends Georgia State and has experienced teachers who have — and haven’t — been accepting of her military duty.

“They’re pretty good about excusing [for military duty],” Nails said. “Last year, I was gone for a week and a half for a combative course. I had to withdraw from one class. [The professor] wasn’t okay with it.”

Georgia State grants service members an Active Military Waiver, which excuses service members from terms but not specific periods of a semester.

“I said, ‘I’ll be gone for a week and I won’t have internet. Is there any way you could postpone these grades?’ She said, ‘No, you would have to miss all of them,’” Nails said. “But for the most part, [professors] are okay with [military leave].”

Despite Nails’ mixed experience with teachers, she’s appreciative of the financial aid services the army provides.

“They help with the Montgomery GI, they do tuition assistance. Not all schools offer it, so they pay me [every] month,” Nails said.

The Montgomery GI bill provides those in reserves up to 36 months of education benefits.

A reserve member may receive up to 36 months of education benefits. Benefit entitlement ends 14 years from the date of eligibility for the program, or on the day the member leaves the Selected Reserve.

Eister acknowledges room for improvement within the program.

“Our number one goal is to continually improve the service and support we provide GSU’s military learners by striving to re-invent ourselves each and every semester,” Eister said. “This requires listening and responding to our students’ true concerns so that we can ‘meet them where they are.’”

The MOC extends beyond Georgia State as they consistently coordinate with outside organizations. Yet, communication proves difficult.

“Our biggest struggle remains that of coordinating with outside organizations, since some often do not move as fast as we would like when it comes to serving and supporting our student veterans. So, we try and stay on top of new and current legislation and policies to ensure our students remain informed,” Eister said.

“We simply want them to be aware of any information or requirements that might affect their VA benefits or that could otherwise affect their academic pursuit.”

The MOC accommodates many veterans at Georgia State, requiring more space than other colleges. The MOC is now working to expand space for veterans, in addition to communication efficacy among serving students.

“We are currently working hard to try and secure larger veteran space(s), particularly on the Atlanta Campus, which has by far the largest student veteran population of any of our campuses. We are also continuously striving to find new and better ways to connect and communicate with our student veterans so that we can better ‘Serve Those Who Have Served,’” Eister said.

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