University Housing Model Could Help Veterans

fromKJZZ

New Mexico State University is trying a new approach to better accommodate veterans with on-campus housing. The gap between student veterans and their civilian peers is wide. The model integrates veterans and makes them feel at home on campus.

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The transition to college is hard enough for many students and we've learned even harder for military veterans. Over the last decade of war, colleges across the country have slowly been finding ways to better accommodate the one million or so soldiers returning from those wars. From member station KJZZ, Monica Ortiz Uribe reports on a new university housing model.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Inside the lobby of Garcia Hall at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, students are pumped after a victory by their basketball team. They gather around a pool table in ripped jeans and nylon shorts that sag below their waist. The students here are just out of high school.

They're preoccupied with the opposite sex and the latest MP3 on their phone. Their interests are not shared by Tony Cano, a 23-year military veteran. He served as an infantry soldier and later a platoon sergeant overseeing missions in the Middle East and Asia. Cano is now pursuing a teaching degree.

TONY CANO: It was kind of a scary experience, you know, going to school with kids half your age. First class I walked into, I sat down and everybody was just looking at me like, what's this old guy doing in class?

URIBE: Even some of the youngest veterans have witnessed the death and destruction of war. Others struggle with life-altering injuries and many have families. Cano quickly realized that he wasn't the only student vet uncomfortable with on-campus housing. So this fall he and others pitched an alternative to the university housing department.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

JULIE WEBER: So these are our standard two bedroom, one bath houses...

URIBE: Julie Weber is the housing director at New Mexico State here in southern New Mexico. She's showing off a single family home near the main campus.

WEBER: They have a living room, kitchen, one bathroom, and then two bedrooms.

URIBE: Starting this month, a section of the housing will be reserved specifically for student veterans. These are actual homes built in a neighborhood-like setting. They're 900 square feet of beige cinderblock walls and mismatched tile floors that date back to World War II. But it's the families who move in that bring the warmth.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

URIBE: Nine-year-old Rachel Fang plays the piano inside one of the houses in the neighborhood where the veterans will live. She moved here from China with her parents, both doctoral students.

RACHEL FANG: We jump on the trampoline, we play tag, we do a lot of stuff, activities.

URIBE: These houses have their own driveways and even a backyard. They'll allow veterans to live near each other and have space for their families and their service dogs. Michael Dakduk, who heads the national non-profit Student Veterans of America, thinks it's a great model. More than 800,000 veterans nationwide are taking advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill. Still, Dakduk says veterans are a minority on campus, just four percent of most student bodies.

MICHAEL DAKDUK: I worry that support for veterans may begin to wane as well. That's why it's absolutely critical that we institutionalize programs and resources.

URIBE: Some colleges, like San Diego State, have already converted frat houses for veterans. Others, like Ohio State, are looking to the more family-friendly model. That school is set to open 11 on-campus apartments for veterans and their families. For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Las Cruces.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And that story came to us from Fronteras, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest that focuses on the border and changing demographics.

This is NPR News.

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