NKU training program helps staff transition students from military to civilian life

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

More by....

Transitioning from a military mindset to that of a student at a university can be difficult.

The Veterans Resource Station (VRS) at Northern Kentucky University implemented the Green Zone Brigade Training program to combat some of those challenges that military-affiliated students face when transitioning to civilian life. 

“We do a good job teaching them how to be a warrior,” VRS Coordinator Rusty Mardis said. “We do a terrible job teaching them how to be a civilian again.”

According to missiontransition.org, 76% of all military veterans say their transition was stressful. Mardis, an Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran, said his transition to life outside of the military was awful.

“I had a horrible transition. That’s why I’m so focused and passionate about doing transitional services,” Mardis said. “They’re transitioning that military mindset back into the civilian community. It’s an opportunity to be able to influence that transitional piece and make sure it’s successful.”

In training, Mardis said he talks to faculty about military culture, what they went through, and what they must try to figure out again. He also offers tips and tools they need to succeed in their classrooms or offices.

The “green zone” is considered a safe space when you’re in a military environment or combat zone.

“That green zone is a safe space for military-affiliated and veteran students, so they can go to that faculty member and sit and feel comfortable,” Mardis said.

Mardis said he believes NKU is the only university in the Greater Cincinnati area to offer its staff and faculty Green Zone Brigade Training.

There are currently 476 veterans, 109 dependents, 31 active duty, and 51 National Guard members enrolled at NKU. Mardis said the VRS only sees about 8% of those students.

He said engagement rates are a considerable part of the transition process. Because students interact almost daily with faculty and staff, the Green Zone Brigade Training helps them be part of that engagement process.

Related:  Live in Covington? Wanna check out the Behringer-Crawford Museum? For free?

NKU Professor of Marketing and Sports Business and Event Management Bridget Nichols took the training class. She said the university had focused more on diversity, equality, and inclusion, and veterans are part of the inclusion component that has gone unrecognized.

Nichols said something that surprised her during the training was learning that military-affiliated students often feel uncomfortable in the classroom.

“Sometimes, they get negative comments and feedback from peers. I didn’t know that they feel uncomfortable,” Nichols said. “I was disheartened to hear that. Even if it’s 1%, that’s not good.”

NKU Director of University Connect and Persist Peg Adams said attending the training allows faculty and staff to be a support network for each other along with the students.

“I appreciated the information about the transition from the military to the university and how to best discuss strategies with students,” Adams said. “For example, having outcomes and feedback on how things are going to help with the transition to move forward here in a positive way.”

Those who have served in the military struggle in the classroom because of the lack of directions offered to students in higher education.

Nichols said the class made her realize that group of the student body may need more help than she initially thought.

“They are used to a clear-cut black and white ‘this is the date I need to do this or have this in by,'” Nichols said. “They’re used to those types of communications, direct, any ambiguity in the syllabus, if it isn’t followed to a ‘t,’ they are going to question that. They have been taught to follow orders. Not questioning the authority.”

Related:  Big crowd, even bigger moment for NKU basketball in beating UC Bearcats in cross-river rivalry

Adams said the program enhanced her understanding of military-affiliated students’ access to financial resources.

“We have opportunities at NKU to look at policies and procedures to outreach to them,” Adams said. “To have them come to NKU to have a good experience. A good example of where there are opportunities to make adjustments.”

Adams said the class opened her eyes to what students are going through when accessing financial resources.

“There are opportunities that we have here at NKU that we haven’t taken advantage of,” Adams said.

NKU Director of Testing Services and Adult Learner Programs and Services Amy Danzo said a policy change happened at NKU due to a Green Zone Brigade Training.

“One of the trainings he (Rusty) did, he said NKU has a cap on the amount of military hours that could be brought into campus,” Danzo said. “Those of us who were in the training were like, ‘why, why do we have that cap?’ We decided to do some research and figure out why there was that max limit (32 hours.) Rusty came with receipts from other universities that did not have that max. So, it’s not like it was a federal requirement or an accreditation requirement.”

Danzo said they pulled a team together to look at university policies and found nowhere that a maximum number of hours had to be set. She said it was just a practice that the registrar did out of history.

‘We questioned that and brought it to a team who vetted it and said there was no reason this should be there, and then they dropped it,” Danzo said.

There is now no maximum number of credit hours that military students can have at NKU.

“When we are less rigid about the equivalencies coming in from the military, those students then are super loyal to the university,” Danzo said. “They tend not to transfer out of NKU once we have accepted that. And not only that, but then they are more apt to pursue graduate education after they get their bachelors, here at NKU.”

Related:  Real ID enforcement delayed by two years in Kentucky, across U.S.

A common misconception about veteran students is that they receive free education.

Mardis said according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, about 75% of service members transitioning out of active duty use their educational benefits.

“When you say it’s free, what did they pay to get that? What do they have to give up to get it free,” Nichols said.

She said she had a past student who was a Marine, and he had been deployed three times before coming to NKU.

“We really struggled with him, getting him to work with team members, getting him to be flexible on projects,” Nichols said. “He was like your quintessential military student who had a hard time adjusting.”

She said now that she had gone through the Green Zone Brigade training, she would be able to understand his situation and help him better.

Nichols said she puts in her syllabus that she has been trained and is a resource for military-affiliated students. Anyone attending a class also gets a Green Zone Brigade magnet to hang outside their classroom.

Green Zone Brigade magnet. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

Mardis says the magnet signifies that a staff member is a resource for other faculty that may have questions or need guidance. It also shows military-affiliated students that there are people on campus who care about their success.

Since the program launched in November 2021, Mardis said they have had 94 faculty members trained, with 31 more signed up for their September class.

More articles

Latest articles

In Case You Missed It