Jacksonville University’s Michael Fleming understands the challenges of transitioning from military life to student life.
A former U.S. Marine and retired brigadier general in the Florida National Guard, Fleming earned multiple Master’s degrees while he was in active service. Now, part of his job as JU’s Senior Vice President of University Relations and Development is to help fellow military veterans navigate university life.
The transition is not always simple. But Fleming said he believes that in many ways, military life is excellent preparation for the pursuit of higher education.
“I think veterans are very well-prepared for the academic environment,” Fleming said, “as long as they make the mental switch from being in the military to the academic environment.”
Making the mental switch means moving from a rigidly structured military environment to one that is less-structured and more-individualized. In “Called to Serve: A Handbook on Student Veterans and Higher Education,” editors Florence A. Hamrick and Corey B. Rumann emphasize the “dual nature” of the transition process for veterans from military life to school.
Veteran students must simultaneously undertake an environmental transition, as well as a personal one.
The environmental transition is characterized by a physical switch from a deployment setting to an academic setting, and all that entails. The personal transition takes place as a veteran’s self-identity shifts to “student first.”
Physical skills and self-discipline honed during a military career can form a foundation for academic success, Fleming said.
“What you’re in school to do is to leverage the talents and the experience you had in the military to move yourself forward for an academic career,” Fleming said. “It’s discipline, it’s understanding, it’s being goal-oriented, all of which help any student be successful. Military students have done all that and more.”
Veterans don’t have to make the transition to student life alone at JU.
A long-standing commitment to serving veteran students has earned JU the following designations:
JU was a founding member of the Northeast Florida Military Veteran College Network, which was created to foster collaboration among institutes of higher education in the region. The goals of the network include enhancing the military student experience and eliminating barriers to graduation.
In addition, JU offers a wealth of support through its Veterans and Military Resource Center. The center can provide information about:
The go-to person for help with the transition from military to student life is JU’s Veteran Student Coordinator Mike Mitchell. His role is to assist prospective and current JU students with admission, academic progress, student involvement and more.
JU also initiated Military 101 and Green Zone training to help university faculty and staff better understand the background and challenges of the school’s military students. In addition, JU’s website features a helpful series of orientation videos, in which Mitchell and others offer practical tips on how to make the transition.
JU students also can receive help from the local chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA), which is housed at the military veterans’ Defenders’ Den lounge and can be reached through the JU Veterans and Military Resource Center. The SVA’s mission is “to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation.”
Further transition assistance is offered by the following organizations:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also offers education and career counseling through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. Eligible active service members and veterans can receive information about career options, guidance on how to use VA benefits, and personal academic and/or adjustment counseling.