Veterans office debuted new website, improved dedicated spaces over past year

Media Credit: Eric Lee | Staff Photographer

Andrew Sonn, the director of the military and veterans office, said the office’s expanded space in the newly rebranded Student Services Hub in the Marvin Center basement includes a private meeting space and a conference room.

Military-affiliated students are starting off the year with new dedicated space in the Marvin Center, officials said.

Administrators said that over the past year, the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services has renovated the Military Community Center and its space in the Marvin Center, held webinars on military benefits for students and debuted a new website. In the coming year, the office’s leaders will take steps to increase awareness of the office’s resources, introduce new fundraising initiatives and work to refine military culture workshops.

Andrew Sonn, the director of the military office, said the office’s expanded space in the newly rebranded Student Services Hub in the Marvin Center basement includes a private meeting space and a conference room. The new spaces will be used for individual meetings with military and veteran students, he said.

Officials unveiled the new Student Services Hub, formerly called Colonial Central, last month. The new space includes a revamped reception area and secluded cubicles for appointments with Student Financial and Registration Services.

“We are very pleased with the new design of the Student Services Hub, which provides dedicated space to meet with military and veteran students,” Sonn said in an email. “The space is open, welcoming and bright.”

Sonn said office staff have spent the past year holding military culture training sessions – which emphasize the diverse intersectionality of military and veteran students – for campus advisers at a summer conference. The office’s employees also “revamped” the culture training curriculum for staff and faculty who work with military students, he added.

“No major challenges that couldn’t be surmounted by our team come to mind when reflecting on 2018-19,” he said.

Sonn said he wants the office this year to introduce “fundraising initiatives” to support scholarships, wellness efforts and career development for military students.

While GW made Military Times’ list of the top 20 schools for veterans last fall, students and advocates have expressed concern about the office’s budget in recent years amid staffing changes.

Sonn said the office is fully staffed after onboarding a fourth employee last year, the first time in two years that the veterans office has been fully staffed. Sonn declined to say how much money the office was allocated in the University’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

Students affiliated with the office said military and veteran students feel more comfortable on campus as a result of the new dedicated space and the fully staffed office.

Former GW Veterans President Ryan Welch said veterans have already started to reap the benefits of the renovated Military Community Center, which includes more furniture, new decorations adorning the space’s walls and a new coat of paint on the second-floor conference room’s walls.

He added that the addition of a fourth staff member in the office has allowed students to rely on the office’s staff for requests, like those related to events and planning. Welch said students prefer to have the office take charge on events and planning requests rather than GW Veterans – a student organization – because leadership changes each year.

“It’s made us more effective, with the umbrella over the student org,” he said. “When you get a lot of turnover with students, it’s going to be in flux all the time.”

Sophomore Mike Notaro said for veteran students, hanging out in places like Gelman Library or the Marvin Center can be “a little uncomfortable,” so the newly renovated, more welcoming space is an improvement.

“It’s a lot cozier and welcoming,” he said. “And there is even more quiet space upstairs.”

Erica Morris, a sophomore, said it can be difficult to relate to younger students, but having a dedicated space helps military and veteran students acclimate to campus life. Being comfortable on campus starts with knowing that she has a place where she can find people who can relate to life in the military, she said.

“They are just starting out and they don’t have those life experiences,” she said. “It’s nice to connect to one another because you have the same experiences.”

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