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A university in Cleveland is trying to help returning military personnel continue their education. It can be hard to combine a return to civilian life with the pressures of going to college, which is why this university is holding classes exclusively for vets.
Dan Bobkoff reports from member station WCPN in Cleveland.
DAN BOBKOFF: It's mid-December and about a dozen young veterans are eating pizza and listening to a college pep talk at Cleveland State University in downtown Cleveland, as chemistry professor John Schoop(ph) make his speech.
Professor JOHN SCHOOP (Cleveland State University): (Unintelligible) work. You're going to make a choice. You're out. You've only finished your military service. Do you get a job or go to school.
BOBKOFF: Some look anxious, most of them back from duty only a few weeks or months. Mario Turner(ph) is sitting with a small group of vets on the right side of the lecture hall. He left Iraq with a gunshot wound in his leg, and after months of rehabilitation wants to move on with his life. But he finds the idea of college classes a bit daunting.
Mr. MARIO TURNER (Veteran): You'd freak out. Two hundred people around you when you're used to just - if you're just fresh out of war or something, or even been out for just six, seven months, you're still going to have the paranoia of having so many people around you.
BOBKOFF: Turner's been diagnosed for PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. He said it makes it harder for him to deal with everyday responsibilities like getting an apartment and paying bills, let alone trying to pay attention in a big classroom.
Mr. TURNER: It's like, wow, you know, my heart starts going, I start looking around, and that's when I started walking around and just looking around and seeing if everything's okay. And it's just - people just, they look at you and it's like, wow, what's wrong with that guy?
Prof. SCHOOP: They have a hard time concentrating. When it's quiet during a test, they are at their worst.
BOBKOFF: Professor John Schoop started the new program at Cleveland State to help vets adjust to school. He found that many of the guys he'd meet didn't think they could hack it at college.
Prof. SCHOOP: They'd come to me and say I don't know if I can handle it. I haven't been in school since, you know, I was 18, and that wasn't very good. And I said, you went to basic training. You were out there on the front line. That took a lot more guts than sitting in the class and applying for student loans. So I think you have what it takes.
BOBKOFF: The vets' apprehension became the basis of the school's new SERVE program, which stands for Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran. Schoop wants to help veterans like Edmund Sweeney(ph), who's just back from serving in Kosovo. Sweeney is a lot older than most of the other freshmen, and he's nervous.
Mr. EDMUND SWEENEY (Veteran): My basic concern was going back to school, just going back to school. Or having the do homework, having to study. Because when I was in high school, I did a little, I did enough. But now I'm grown.
BOBKOFF: Professor Schoop's idea is to recruit the soldiers early, often while they're still overseas. He hopes to navigate the VA and college registration. And then the vets get special small freshman classes open only to them. He's betting it will make them much more at ease.
Prof. SCHOOP: This way they had this camaraderie, this feeling of their unit.
BOBKOFF: So far he's convinced 14 veterans to take these classes. Mario Turner, Edmund Sweeney, and about 10 other young vets are sitting attentively in his introduction to chemistry class, held in a small classroom instead of a lecture hall.
Prof. SCHOOP: Why? By the time you leave Wednesday you're going to know why this group blows up, why this group kills you…
BOBKOFF: John Schoop plans to track the vets' experiences to see if this program makes a difference, because he says what it's really about is helping them deal with the trauma of war.
For NPR News, I'm Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland.
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