Until recently, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s offerings for student veterans were limited to say the least.
According to Milton White, it was basically him – a single Student Services employee – along with a table outside his office covered with pamphlets. A good portion of the time, he’d have to send student vets to the Tampa campus for assistance.
He said that’s not the ideal way to help someone transitioning from one important chapter of their life to another.
"You become a part of a team in the military, you want to remain part of a team when you get out of the military," White said. "Getting out is like losing a family; it really is like being separated from your family and you don’t function well when that actually happens to you."
The opening ceremony was held the day before Veterans Day – which also happened to be the 240th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, which White was a member of for 25 years.
He said that the Center will use a variety of methods to assist the nearly 500 veterans, active military and dependents who attend USFSP.
"We want to provide them with mentors and sponsors that will help them navigate the system from the very first day they walk on this campus, looking to determine what classes they want to attend, what their major is going to be, all the way to the day that they graduate," White said. "Then invite them back to help others as they’re going through that process."
David Creighton served in the U.S. Army for six years and is now a drill sergeant with the Army Reserve. He’s also the President of the USFSP Student Veterans Organization.
"Students, when they’re stressed and strung out over their current college courses, they can relate and like to find comfort in speaking to fellow students, but there’s more going on with a veteran, because he’s juggling several things," Creighton said.
"The sense of overwhelming can be great when a veteran thinks to himself at the start of his college career, ‘can I do this?’ You’ve just done your military service, you can do anything."
The center is located in the Terraces building across from Albert Whitted Airport.
It has two separate sections: an office area for staffers and visiting specialists from the VA and other agencies; and a lounge area where students will be able to socialize, as well as work.
"This center that we have right here is that keystone, that, hey, when you’re not in class you can come here for a snack, you can get some coffee, you can get your work done, you can chat with a fellow veteran, we have quiet areas for study," Creighton said.
USF’s Tampa campus recently was ranked as the second best college in the U.S. for veterans to attend by Military Times EDGE magazine. The hope is that the Center will allow USF St. Petersburg to start building its own reputation as a veteran friendly school.
"Being able to offer this service to student veterans is going to make USFSP the campus to come to," White said. "Now that we’re going to have this here at USFSP, it means we too will be able to claim that type of rating for the veterans and provide those services."
"I think this initiative is extremely significant, not only for our veterans, but USF St. Petersburg," USFSP Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska added.
"It gives us the opportunity to thank our veterans for their service," she says, "but more important, it gives us an opportunity to help them transition into civilian life and to help them position themselves for a productive, happy life."