SERV-ing veterans

A student’s phone call to John Schupp, then an instructor at Cleveland State University, began with a chemistry question.

But the phone call quickly took a personal turn when the student agonized about her transition from the battlefield to the classroom.

“She was a returning vet who kept dropping and failing,” Schupp said. “I’m not military. I don’t know anything about this stuff. I thought, ‘Is this normal? Let me find out.’ It’s normal, so I had to see why.”

Schupp now teaches chemistry at Tiffin University. But his work with Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran, a program he founded at CSU after that phone call, brought him to Kilcawley Center on Oct. 25.

“Veterans tend to think, ‘I’m OK. Someone is worse off than me, so take care of him,’” Schupp said to nearly a dozen Youngstown State University students and faculty members. “That’s the mentality on the battlefield, and that’s the mentality in the classroom.”

Schupp found that returning veterans had trouble focusing in the classroom. And without focus, they couldn’t pass.

To find out why, he began an experiment.

He changed the learning environment by putting all veterans in one class. Keeping the same course material as his other classes, the all-veteran class scored a higher average on his test than the regular class.

“They are trained to evaluate the environment,” Schupp said. “In war, the environment can kill you. When you have a class full of people with backpacks and texting on phones, it can distract you. When you take away the civilians and put all vets in, you take away the anxiety of the environment. Now the assignment becomes the priority.”

Daniel Curl, a YSU sophomore and Navy veteran, majors in applied math and works in the Office of Veterans Affairs.

Curl took a veterans-only communication class when he started at YSU. He said it helped that everybody in the class had something in common.

Working in the Office of Veterans Affairs, Curl aims to reintegrate veterans into education and let them know about the benefits YSU offers.

“We try to rotate what classes we offer every semester, and we’re trying to get more,” he said. “Right now, they’re mostly intro-level classes. It’s an attempt to welcome veterans back to school. We try to make the classes less stressful because they’re now a part of the older crowd. They’re almost a nontraditional student at this point, compared to somebody coming straight out of high school.”

About 340 veterans attend YSU, said Dave Olekshuk, a network services technician and interim coordinator of the Office of Veterans Affairs.

Aside from offering veterans-only classes, the Office of Veterans Affairs waives application and student orientation fees for veterans.

Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at YSU, called YSU a “veteran-friendly campus.”

“That basically means we embrace our veterans here, welcome them and help them,” she said.

Anne Lally, a counselor with Career & Counseling Services at YSU, collaborates with the Office of Veterans Affairs, and she often helps students who need short-term counseling, consultations or referrals.

She said veterans often need to speak with someone on campus.

“There are a variety of reasons, but mostly adjustment,” Lally said. “Just coming to campus and adjusting to college life is a challenge, but with vets there’s another adjustment. You may have trouble adjusting back into civilian life, which can be quite a challenge.”

As of May, more than half of the 71,000 Ohioans deployed have returned, according to statistics presented by Schupp.

Schupp said that 18 percent of those veterans are attending college. He also said that in a five-county region, YSU brings in the second largest amount of veterans of Ohio.

Schupp praised YSU and the area for having quality programs for veterans and applauded the university’s outreach to disabled veterans, although he refused to label them as disabled.

“I use the word injured,” he said. “When people use the word disabled, vets think, ‘That’s not me. I’m not disabled. I’m hurt. I’ll get better.’ They avoid the disability services office like the plague because they don’t want to be labeled as disabled.”

Edward Savel, president of the county’s Veterans Service Commission and a YSU alumnus, served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was discharged and diagnosed with a nervous condition, and he experienced the feelings Schupp described.

“Like they were saying, veterans don’t like to admit they have problems,” Savel said. “I knew I was getting discharged within a few months from when I started having problems. I just thought once I got back to Ohio I’d be fine, but I wasn’t. It was a pretty serious problem.”

Curl considers the lifestyle change his most difficult adjustment.

“[Getting back into] certain things are hard,” he said. “There are programs, but they’re not very well designed or efficient to plan transitioning from military life to life as a college student. It’s one of those ‘What do I do? Where do I go next?’ type things. That’s one of the nice things about the office over there. Not everyone seems to know about it, though.”

Schupp stressed that a veterans affairs office on campus increases recognition within the community and has the potential to bring money into the area.

“I love Youngstown, and I love YSU,” Schupp said, noting that his travels have taken him to colleges and universities across the country. “I brag about YSU wherever I go. YSU has done a great, great job with developing programs for vets. This whole area is tremendous.”