men and women in uniform

Photo by Yenitza Melgoza

July 01, 2021

SIU earns national recognition for support of military personnel

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale has once again gained the national spotlight for its commitment to serving veterans and active duty military personnel and their families.

The university earned recognition for the 15th consecutive year, jumping to the 34th overall position, on the Military Times 2021 Best for Vets: Colleges rankings. SIU moved up more than 50 spots from last year’s No. 88 ranking. The rankings are based on surveys from colleges and universities across the country, along with public data obtained from the Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, SIU continued to find ways to serve veterans and members of the military wherever they are, according to Paul Copeland, Veterans’ Services coordinator.

“It’s the little things we try to do that distinguish SIU from the other schools,” Copeland said. “We try to take that extra step wherever we can.”

Long history of helping, both on-campus and worldwide

The university’s service extends to military veterans, active-duty personnel and their families.  SIU was one of the first universities in the country to offer degree programs at military installations, beginning in 1973 at Scott Air Force Base. 

SIU’s Extended Campus offers programs at 27 off-campus locations, including 13 military sites, in 10 different states. In addition, SIU boasts more than 200 majors and minors and students can take hundreds of courses online.

Copeland said many veterans take advantage of online and off-campus learning opportunities and some begin their schooling while still in the military and then come to campus to complete their degrees. In addition, SIU’s Online Degree Programs offer students the opportunity to enhance their education and career opportunities by completing bachelor’s or master’s degrees while they are still in the military or working. Through SIU Extended Campus students can earn 14 different bachelor’s degrees and 19 master’s degrees 100% online as well.

They aren’t on their own either. Christina Lawrence, customer service specialist/VA certifying official for off-campus and online students, and other staff members and advisers work closely with student veterans enrolled in online and off-campus programs to assist them in meeting their educational and career goals.

“Our staff appreciates the veterans and service members for their service and we are always here to assist and go the extra mile to help our non-traditional students earn their degrees,” Lawrence said.

Many people fulfill their military obligations and then come to campus to earn their degrees as well, Copeland notes. 

“The types of degrees we offer, the campus, the location and the services and amenities are all attractive to veterans,” Copeland said. “We do great work for veterans.”

He said forestry, recreational therapy, criminal justice (which is also available online at SIU) and law are among the more popular degrees with veterans. During the spring 2021 semester, about 450 on-campus students were either veterans or current members of the National Guard about 300 more were enrolled at off-campus sites or in online classes, according to Copeland.

Vast array of on-campus services

Students who are members of the Air Force and Army  ROTC programs or veterans who attend on-campus classes can access a wide variety of academic resources and other forms of assistance.

SIU has an entire wing on the third floor of Woody Hall dedicated to Veterans Services. The full-service veteran’s center incorporates educational benefits as well as supportive services to assist with academic, engagement and other transitional needs.

The center  provides guidance on Department of Veterans Affairs and defense department benefits/financial aid, academic help, advice and access to tutoring services, typically at no charge. The center coordinates military-related service projects and social events for veterans and military families, assists physically disabled vets and operates an informational website.

The office also features a computer room complete with printers and encryption capabilities for use as needed. In addition, there is a lounge with television, snacks and games where students can relax, a conference room, and quiet rooms where veterans can de-stress alongside a fireplace as they listen to pleasant sounds.

 “The fact that we have this space is great,” Copeland said, noting that other universities have used SIU’s center as a model for their campuses.

In addition to the ROTC programs, SIU’s Student Veterans Organization, a registered student organization, is an official chapter of the Student Veterans of America. The group provides students a chance to socialize with other veterans, build their resumes and engage in meaningful activities.

The university supports student veterans through activities that build camaraderie too, including tailgates for football, volleyball and baseball games. Although some activities had to be curtailed due to the pandemic, Copeland said his office continued to find ways to provide support and assistance, albeit in virtual ways at times.

“We do good work for veterans and members of the military, as well as their families, and we find a way to get it done,” he said.

Extended services

The services and connections provided extend well beyond the campus borders, Copeland said. SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center is also a valuable resource, Copeland said, offering a wide variety of outdoor programming and adventures to help veterans transition to student life. Veterans, current service members and members of the National Guard/Reserves and ROTC and their families can enjoy a diverse range of free outdoor recreational events and activities including rock climbing, dancing, hunting and kayaking through Touch of Nature’s Veteran Adventures program.

In addition, Veteran Services has a great relationship with the Illinois National Guard, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion organizations as well as the Marion VA Medical Center, which also operates a clinic in Carbondale, Copeland said.