Temple University PA offers veterans, active-duty military and reservists as well as their dependents and survivors a strong support system to navigate the landscape of higher education. After two decades working in admissions, recruitment and enrollment management at Temple, Laura S. Reddick turned her full attention to the needs of these military-connected students. She has been integral in developing effective resources that not only yield educational success, but do so with the students' well-being in mind.
Reddick even makes sure to have a well-stocked kitchen at Temple's Military and Veteran Services Center, which opened last year. “Food is a draw to get people to come to you when you're trying to provide them information and assistance,” says Reddick, associate director for adult and veteran student recruitment based in Temple University Veteran Affairs.
During Reddick's time in Temple's admissions office, veterans and adult learners were part of her portfolio. Her role was to help military-connected students get into Temple, but there was no program to help these students navigate the university experience. When the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect, it covered full tuition for veterans and could be passed on to spouses and dependents. Her then-boss approached her to be part of forming a veteran affairs office.
She helped create a veteran task force made up of student services departments that provide direct services to veterans. The task force met for one year, examining their workflow process. The goal was to have the departments work collaboratively to the benefit of military-connected students.
The veteran affairs office launched in 2010. There are currently more than 1,500 military-connected students enrolled in Temple (including a campus in Japan), and that number continues to grow. To ensure all students qualified to receive benefits are doing so, a question is posed as to whether they or their family members have served in the U.S. military. Coding systems have been developed and implemented that identify those students eligible for benefits and services.
“I was very excited about having the opportunity to develop a blueprint for the veteran affairs office on how we can best serve military and veteran students who choose Temple University,” says Reddick, a Philadelphia native.
She addressed and accomplished the goal of making Temple a “military-friendly institution” and a “Yellow Ribbon” school. The Yellow Ribbon Program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs makes private colleges and universities more affordable by helping bridge the gap between tuition fees and the amount covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Transitioning to civilian life can be challenging. Temple's veteran affairs office is designed to ease and facilitate the transition to a college environment. Reddick takes it a step further, examining their reasons for pursuing higher education, assessing their needs and then assisting them in achieving college completion with meaningful results.
The Military and Veteran Services Center has an inclusive environment. Reddick secured a technology grant, with which the center purchased laptops that the students can use. The Temple Veterans Association secured a Home Depot vet center grant, with which they furnished the premises. Students can come and hang out, and prospective students come to the center to talk to Reddick about applying to Temple.
After discovering that female veterans were often invisible on campus—some not even disclosing their veteran status—six years ago Reddick developed the Women Veterans Forum to address issues unique to military-connected women, such as health care, child care and psychological issues.
“I created the Women Veterans Forum to give our women veterans at the university a safe place to have real talk about the challenges they're facing transitioning,” says Reddick. “I have a big resource fair, where I invite different veterans' organizations that provide specific services for women veterans, so they can connect.”
“I hold FAFSA (federal student aid) completion workshops and make sure that our website has information. I do virtual information sessions to outreach to veterans and service members when they're looking at Temple. I always encourage them to make the connection with us before they decide to come here, so we can lay everything out for them in terms of resources and also so I can determine whether Temple is the right fit for them,” says Reddick.
Reddick says military-connected students bring leadership abilities to Temple. However, given the challenges they faced during military service, these students tend to be very guarded, sometimes even downplaying their skills and abilities. She helps them fully embrace their history and accomplishments, making sure they reflect it in résumés and on job applications.
She steers those military-connected students not ready for the rigors of a four-year institution to community colleges with bridge programs.
“I try to tell them as much information as I possibly can about resources that are available to them—financial aid as well as community resources,” says Reddick, who has researched organizations that help veterans deal with homelessness, mental health issues and job placements. Temple has psychological counseling available.
Reddick doesn't concentrate exclusively on undergraduates, but also devotes time to students attending professional schools and graduate programs. There are veterans' advisors in each of the university's schools and colleges. Reddick even invites prospective employers to come in and meet with the military-connected students. November is Military Appreciation Month, which is designed to increase military awareness.
“I've been in higher ed a long time; I understand the bigger picture,” she says. “I understand the different student populations in all the various programs.
“I'm blessed to have committed administrators and advisors who were part of the university's veteran task force who work very hard to streamline the process. We're never going to get it perfect, but we really try to meet the demands within what we can do as a university to help our veterans successfully complete a degree.”