From Bullets to Books: Vets Reintegrate into the Academy

The war to earn an education raged on as the number of veterans occupying Bunker Hill Community College grew even larger this semester.

Bunker Hill unveiled their new Veteran’s Learning Community seminar this semester entitled, “The Military: Life Before, During and After.” The seminar helps veterans transition into an educational environment and provides them with the tools necessary to succeed in college.

According to their flier, “The Military: Life Before, During and After” is a three credit course focused on helping veterans work through the process of transitioning to academic life.

“It provides an opportunity for a very deserving group of people,” said Doug Clifford, Professor of English and instructor of the Veterans Seminar, who also served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1969. “And I think that community colleges especially are in a position to provide that opportunity for people. So it’s real nice to be part of a project like this.”
Throughout the semester, students are assigned a varity of books that relate to the military experience, including Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Homer’s The Odyssey. The seminar also invites guest speakers who have experience working with veterans as well as with other college students.

“We have a whole kind of schedule planned to have people from both inside the college and outside the college,” Clifford said. “Like today, we had somebody come and speak to the class from the Vets Center which is sort of like a counseling and outreach program that’s part of the Veterans Affairs Department in the country.”

Clifford continued, “We’re going to have people from the Career Services offices here come and talk about what’s available from career services. We have had the students go over to the Instructional Technology Department to learn about what they are calling digitation, and we’re going to have a session at the library to learn about those kinds of services.”
Although Bunker Hill Community College requires all first year students to take a community learning seminar designed to help students acquaint themselves with other students and faculty, this semester’s Veterans Community Seminar is the first of it’s kind at the school.

“We had talked right before Christmas, the day before vacation,” said Dr. Kathleen O’Neil, who teaches Principles of Psychology along with the Veterans Seminar. “Then we came back in January and just brainstormed how it could work. And we got different people agreeing that the Veterans Seminar would be good to do in September, and we said if it’s good to do in September it would also be good to do right now.”
Since deciding to unveil the seminar early, the first group of veterans to take the class has had positive things to say about it.
“They’re doing a good job trying to put a lot of different things together for us,” said Stony Timmons, a criminal justice major who served in the Navy for six years.

Bill Peters, who currently serves in the National Guard, and will be serving in Afghanistan starting next August, added “I think everybody is trying to figure out good ways to approach different topics that veterans face, and we’re all putting in as much work as we can so that way as the class progresses we will have a better way of taking care of the all veterans.”
Although the veterans have taken their first steps towards re-acquainting themselves with an academic setting, they still face many struggles adjusting to civilian life.

“Having to deal with people who don’t think the same way,” said Jacob Yearley, who also served in the Navy for 3 years, of the difficulties he has faced. “Having to come back to a civilized life, it’s not the same. You have a lot less patience when you get out of the military, because everything’s, do it the way it’s said and that’s it.”

While the military seminar has provided veterans with an opportunity to reintegrate into academic life, it has also been an educational experience for its professors.

“It’s just exciting. It’s exciting and invigorating to hear their stories, to hear them become companions to each other,” said O’Neil.

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