Peer sponsors help veteran students succeed at Ohio State
After a six-year career in the Air Force, Hannah Rodas was looking to begin the next step in her life and it started in higher education.
“When I was originally looking into school after getting out of the military, I didn’t anticipate going to Ohio State,” Rodas said. “I’m from Michigan to begin with. It had never really crossed my mind but my husband is from the area and we wanted to move somewhere where we would have family close by to make that transition a lot easier.”
That transition, especially at a university the size of Ohio State, still presented a challenge.
“I was really overwhelmed at first. Before the military, I had gone to a community college where my classes were about, maybe, 15 to 20 people and then my very first semester here I’m in classes of 50 and up,” she said. “And most of my classmates are around the age of 18. I remember the very first semester I had a psychology teacher who was younger than I was.”
Rodas’ experience is common among the more than 1,800 current veterans, dependents, active duty, National Guard and reserve members who are undergraduate and graduate students at Ohio State. Veteran students are often older than their classmates, more experienced and more likely to have traveled around the world.
Rodas, now a third-year student majoring in human development and family sciences with a minor in studio art, is helping veteran students who may feel overwhelmed like she did. She serves as a peer sponsor in the Peer 2 Peer Program at Ohio State. It’s one of several programs in the Office of Military and Veterans Services to support veteran students and help them succeed in college.
Peer 2 Peer is designed to help incoming student veterans and service members make a smooth transition from the military to the college environment. Peer sponsors communicate information, encouragement and guidance to new student veterans during their first year and are a contact to answer questions about college life and veteran education benefits.
“I think my favorite part of the program is organizing and running the different events around campus and getting to actually meet those people and hear their stories and hear about their military experience,” Rodas said.
Rodas encourages new veteran students to be aware of and use the Student Veteran Lounge in Smith Lab.
“I really want people to know that it’s a resource they can use. There’s a fridge, there are lockers, there are study groups and tutors and that’s where you’re going to find a lot of things about the events we hold,” she said.
Codie Rufener, a fourth-year student majoring in in international studies and cognitive neuroscience and minoring in German, is also a peer sponsor. Unlike Rodas, he was raised in Ohio and members of his family attended Ohio State so after seven years in the Air Force, he knew what to expect.
A lot of students that come from towns with smaller colleges tell us it’s so big. They’ve never experienced anything like this. So I think it goes back to trying to find something that you enjoy and getting involved. It’s a lot to take in, especially your first semester.
As a peer sponsor, he knows the size of Ohio State can be intimidating. He has helped lead tours of the university to show veteran students around campus. Rufener advises new veteran students to take advantage of tutors or study groups and to find opportunities to get involved on campus.
“A lot of students that come from towns with smaller colleges tell us it’s so big. They’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “So I think it goes back to trying to find something that you enjoy and getting involved. It’s a lot to take in, especially your first semester.”
Mike Carrell, assistant vice provost and director of the Office of Military and Veterans Services, said focusing on veteran students makes sense for Ohio State. He said a university that treats veteran students well will treat all students well.
Operating as a veteran-friendly college also helps advance the goals of the American Talent Initiative. Ohio State is a founding member of the American Talent Initiative, a first-of-its-kind partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ithaka S+R and the Aspen Institute to enroll an additional 50,000 low- and moderate-income students at top-performing colleges and universities over the next decade.
Many military service members come from low- and moderate-income backgrounds, so improving veterans’ opportunities in a college setting complements ATI’s aspirations to help more talented students get a degree.
Ohio State is one of more than 30 ATI member institutions dedicated to improving access and success for veterans. Rodas said it’s critical for a university like Ohio State to lead the way.
“I think a university that has such a big name as Ohio State University, they are acknowledging the student veteran population and enabling them to do better and to really grow,” Rodas said. “I think that really sets the pace for other universities and I’m always surprised when I hear that these other universities of the same size don’t follow suit. And that’s shocking to me because student veterans can contribute so much to the classroom and so much of the university environment.”
Rufener said a university that values student veterans will have a better student population overall.
“You’re making your population more diverse, and bringing in a new group of people to any population is always a good thing,” he said. “You’re getting different viewpoints and I think that veterans definitely have a pretty unique viewpoint.”