By Jhoana T. Merino-Martinez
Not only is FDU a culturally diverse campus, but its support of veterans in their higher-ed journey earned the title of the Best Liberal Arts University for Veterans in New Jersey in 2017 by College Factual.
The Equinox interviewed Martha Garcia, director of veterans services on campus, to get a better understanding of the role the program plays in the vital transition from soldier to student.
“For someone who’s never been on a college campus before, it can be overwhelming,” Garcia said. “So our office is here to navigate the way for them to be successful in college.”
Equipped with a BA in geoscience, MBA from FDU, and a future MSSA degree from FDU as well, Army-veteran Garcia represents veterans with a passion. When asked what the veteran population is at FDU, she reveals that there are 150 declared veterans between both the Metro and Florham campuses, but Garcia estimated that there could be even more.
“Given the choice to self-disclose, most veterans don’t,” Garcia said. “They kinda keep it to themselves.”
The most important part of what veterans services does is certifying student veterans. In order to certify a veteran’s enrollment in FDU, their office confirms with the Veterans Administration, allowing the student to use any educational benefits they might’ve accumulated from their service.
“If they are eligible, they could use this to come to FDU, and depending on the level of benefit, they could possible go to FDU completely free — in addition to earning a monthly basic allowance for housing, about $2500, and a book stipend for $1000 once a year,” Garcia said.
The FDU office doesn’t draw the line at declared veterans.
“If you don’t have benefits as a veteran, we could still help,” Garcia said. “We wouldn’t say no to any veteran as far as they need assistance, say, meeting with their advisors, or have a question concerning FDU. For instance, the lounge in our office [in Dickinson Hall] is for student veterans. We have free printing, coffee, water, fridge and microwave, flat screen TV, gaming system– excellent study area. Very quiet. So, if you’re a veteran or a dependent of a veteran, you can utilize it. You don’t have to have VA benefits.”
It’s a challenge, however, to reach out to veterans both in and out of campus. So, Veterans Services leads by action.
“Veterans, we talk, and we get the FDU name out there — that not only are we an awesome school, but we give back to the community. That seems to work very well,” Garcia said.
This was the point that was brought up by veteran student Elijah Woodard, better known as EJ, a junior majoring in broadcast communications. EJ is a military veteran who decided to go back to school when he got out in 2017, and chose FDU for its veteran population and theater programs.
“I wanted to take full advantage of it to finally earn a degree and better myself for the future,” EJ said.
While the Veterans Services office hosts a ceremony every Veterans Day, this November 11th there will be a white banner accompanied with Sharpies posted in front of Dickinson Hall encouraging the FDU community to thank a veteran. After you write a note, you can plant a small flag in the grass to honor them.
“We’ve never done something like this before so we really want the whole FDU community to participate,” Garcia said. “I’m hoping that students will take advantage and thank a veteran. Because it will be a visual, too, to see all those flags and be like, ‘Wow, a lot of people know veterans!’.”
In addition to events, Veterans Services offers a variety of clubs and programs from an SVA club on campus to the Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative on campus. Anyone, even without military affiliation, can approach their office.
“It’s all about opportunity,” Martha said. “You don’t have to do it, but you should know about it so you can make a decision.”
With all that the Veterans Services office does for its students and our community, it may seem unfair that their work is rarely put on the front lines. This approach is preferred by Garcia.
“It’s difficult with the students being older, they have different responsibilities than a nineteen year-old,” Garcia said. “They might be married, have kids, or have another job. So, we don’t meet every week, or go out at night. We do a handful of things and we try to do them very well.”
Fairleigh Dickinson’s student-veteran population is growing, and so is its supportive community.
“At the end of the day,” EJ said, “it’s up to the veteran to see what they could benefit from them.”
Martha Garcia, an Army veteran, leads services for veterans on campus.
Photo by Admir Durakovic