The University of New Orleans on Thursday unveiled a newly dedicated space where students who are military veterans can find administrative assistance and peer camaraderie.
Located on the first floor of the Earl K. Long Library, the Veterans Service Center is designed to be a convenient resource and gathering spot for veterans and current military personnel who have chosen to pursue their academic goals at the University of New Orleans. It is nestled in the same corridor as First-Year Experience, Financial Aid and Enrollment Services and will house the Veterans Affairs Office.
President John Nicklow said that since arriving at the University two years ago, it has been a priority of his to ensure that the administration provides veterans with a comprehensive network of support that eases their transition to academia while nurturing and valuing the unique experiences that students with military experience bring to a campus.
“You have our respect, our admiration and our thanks,” Nicklow said to a gathering that included veterans who are students, staff, faculty and alumni. “We are so grateful for your service to our nation. We are so pleased that you’ve chosen to fulfill your educational and academic goals at the University of New Orleans. Your presence on this University campus enriches our culture and our experiences. We certainly want you to succeed here. But it’s not enough to say we want you to succeed and that we support you in those efforts. We need to show you that.”
Miguel Olivero, president of the UNO Collegiate Veterans Association, is a U.S. Army veteran who transferred to UNO last year. He said he has found the University to be incredibly responsive to its veterans’ needs and concerns, including allocating this space—a request he made on behalf of students early in his arrival in New Orleans. “I’ve attended five universities now and out of those, the University of New Orleans has been the most veteran-friendly, hands-down,” Olivero said.
Olivero hoisted a giant pair of scissors to cut a ribbon on the space. Holding the ribbon on either side of him while he snipped were Nicklow to his left and Col. Joey Strickland, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, to his right.
Strickland, who served nearly 29 years in the U.S. Army, said such spaces send important messages to veterans on college campuses. He said he walked onto a college campus at age 22 after two tours of duty in Vietnam.
“There wasn’t anything like this in those days,” he said. “Many times, I felt like a lost soul because I was a 22-year-old combat vet. I didn’t identify with 22-year-old regular college students. I was 22 years old in a 47-year-old body. I needed a place where I could be with my thoughts … This is a great place to do that. We’re going to make sure these veterans centers are spread all across our state.”
Faculty, staff and students flowed through the multi-room space, which includes a seating area with three couches. One wall of the gathering area is covered in a wall-sized American flag poster and features seals from all branches of the U.S. armed forces. The center will be staffed by Faith Cutrera, coordinator of Veterans Services. Nicklow also recognized Ann Lockridge, director of financial aid and scholarships, who helped bring the center to fruition in her role as administrative coordinator for Veterans Services.
Peter Mayaka, a U.S. Army veteran and senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, said that he has felt so welcomed at UNO that he has decided to pursue graduate studies in education counseling here. Eventually, he said, he hopes to work in a college setting himself, providing support to first-year students who are making a similar transition. He said he was moved by the University’s decision to dedicate this space for its veteran students.
“It tells me that UNO cares,” he said. “The college veteran is a very specific demographic that can be easily overlooked and underserved. But UNO has made a conscious effort to make us feel at home.”
UNO has worked hard to serve its veteran population, which numbers more than 200 students. The University has been recognized by the state of Louisiana as a military and veteran friendly campus and, in 2015-16, was named a “military friendly school” by MilitaryFriendly.com, a division of Victory Media, a service-disabled, veteran-owned business that rates companies and colleges on their programs to recruit and retain veterans and military spouses.