Friday, June 14, 2024

UTSA helps veteran student community thrive in Military City, USA

UTSA helps veteran student community thrive in Military City, USA

MAC President Nayelli Lopez and VMA Senior Director Michael Logan greet visitors to Coffee With Vets at the Veterans Lounge at the John Peace Library.

JUNE 5, 2024 — Every second Wednesday of the month since 2022, Nayelli Lopez has prepared the UTSA Veterans Lounge for a crowd of students — often standing elbow-to-elbow and sometimes waiting in line outside the door.

The reason they queue up on campus: Coffee with Vets, a monthly event that brings UTSA’s military-affiliated student community together.

“Coffee with Vets is one of our most successful events, and it’s a great time where people can just talk,” said Lopez, who is the president of the Military Affiliated Collaborative (MAC), a student-led organization at the UTSA Center for Military Affiliated Students (CMAS).

As a leader and as a student, Lopez understands the importance of a close-knit network within the university’s military community. She is also a student employee with the UTSA Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (VMA).

She says that events like Coffee with Vets always surprise people; they imagine that the VMA’s role is primarily restricted to paperwork. But the UTSA office offers much more. The CMAS, the umbrella unit that serves as a central hub for UTSA students who are active-duty personnel, veterans or family members, is home to the VMA staff, the Veterans Certification Office, the Hazlewood financial aid program and the VetSuccess on Campus program.

“We’ve built a community at UTSA that truly understands the challenges that accompany military service and the obstacles that can occur in the transition back to civilian life.”

The CMAS was conceptualized by Lisa Carrington Firmin, a veteran, former UTSA associate provost and the founder of the VMA. The center consolidates veteran support services, initiates priority registration, veteran orientation, scholarships, case studies and a Veteran Culture Competence training module. Firmin was also instrumental in the mission CMAS follows today: To foster community, belonging, peer mentoring and support for students by working with the U.S. Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and state veteran agencies.

VMA’s current senior director Michael Logan ’10, M.B.A. ’11, Ph.D. ’19, and his team are building on that model, expanding services and programs and connecting with more military-affiliated students over the last several years.

“As a veteran transitioning to civilian life, you no longer have the structured routine you had in the military. You miss the camaraderie, and there can be miles of red tape between you and your education,” Logan said. “We’ve built a community at UTSA that truly understands the challenges that accompany military service and the obstacles that can occur in the transition back to civilian life.”

Logan’s service in the U.S. Marine Corps and his journey as a degree-seeking veteran have shaped his philosophy. Balancing parenting, academics and his work life, he often felt the pressure to delay his academic endeavors. Luckily, with the help of his peers and UTSA, he achieved his educational goals. Today, he is a three-time UTSA alum.

As of Fall 2023, there were roughly 5,000 military-affiliated students attending UTSA or 16% of the total student population. Of military-affiliated students, more than 1,500 are currently serving or are veterans of U.S. Armed Forces. To serve this vibrant community, the VMA team continuously evaluates its programs and practices and works with its partners across the University of Texas System and the nation to identify and implement best practices.

This student population has led UTSA to improve its internal processes. In 2019, the CMAS increased efficiency and helped students tackle administrative tasks more easily, allowing military-affiliated Roadrunners to focus on getting a high-quality education.

For example, the CMAS hosts three U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) employees on campus. This makes it easier for students to access university resources, make official case notes with the VA, maximize their educational benefits, secure referrals to external resources and work with health care advocates — all without ever leaving campus.

Meanwhile, the VMA team has expanded and dramatically increased the speed and accuracy of processing of federal and state military education benefits. For example, after internal process improvements and the new offices were created, processing times went from as long as 90 days to under 30 days, often clocking at roughly two weeks.

“Our comprehensive support helps students understand that they belong at UTSA and empowers them to succeed academically, professionally and personally,” Logan said. “Thanks to our close relationships with military-affiliated students, we can more easily identify and resolve systemic issues that can inhibit our students’ success.”

As a testament to the university’s growing reputation for serving military-affiliated students, UTSA has been highly ranked on several national lists of the best colleges for veterans.

UTSA was ranked No. 39 among 92 ranked institutions in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 list of Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, jumping ahead of its rank at No. 51 in 2023. U.S. News & World Report considers a range of factors, including military-focused financial benefits, academic excellence and GI Bill certification.

Additionally, UTSA was ranked No. 53 out of 325 institutions in Military Times 2023 Best for Vets: Colleges list. Military Times uses measures similar to U.S. News & World Report — examining the support programs, administrative processes, enrollment levels and student success outcomes. 

Learn about Michael Logan’s participation in the prestigious Stand-to-Veteran Leadership program.
Visit the CMAS website for more information on resources available to military students, and to explore the center’s upcoming events.

It is the voice of military affiliated students and alumni that make the rankings, and many of the CMAS programs, possible. As MAC president, Lopez is on the frontlines of identifying what’s next for serving military-affiliated students. 

“I get to hear their voices and see the issues from a student perspective in MAC, and I can bring that information back to my role at the VMA so we can better serve them,” Lopez said. “It’s been a great experience, especially watching how many students we’ve been able to help.”

For more information on resources available for military affiliated students, visit the CMAS website or stop by the Center for Military Affiliated Students in the John Peace Library (JPL 1.12) on the UTSA Main Campus.

Brett Copeland

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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