By Albert Nall
Rebecca McMenamin is the Manager of Veteran and Military Services at the University of Missouri—St. Louis’ (UMSL) Veterans Center in 211 Clark Hall. McMenamin’s role in the Veterans Center is to help ensure the success of veterans from admissions to employment after graduation. McMenamin describes her job as “creating a comfortable place where veterans can come to ask a question, study, relax, and connect with other students.” Making a difference in student veteran success is an important role for McMenamin. McMenamin took the time to speak to “The Current” about her position in the Veterans Center.
TC: Describe your journey that led you to the Veteran’s Center at UMSL.
RM: I am a civilian myself. I am in a non-veteran role of helping veterans. There is a common misconception that you have to be a veteran to help a veteran. And yes, it is true that you need to understand military culture and their mindset, as well as military training and all of that. It better helps you to serve veterans. But I have a background in counseling and student affairs.
My dad was a career Air-Force Senior Master Sargent. He stayed at one place our entire life and he traveled often when we were growing up, but we did not have to move around a lot. He encouraged two of my siblings to join the Air-Force. And I also have an older brother who joined the military. I am the youngest of these veterans. It’s a matter of being passionate about helping veterans, and it hits home with the veteran issues that I deal with every day.
TC: How does your background help with your role in the Veterans Center?
RM: The environments between the military and civilian culture are so different. The military is very structured and more of a team atmosphere. So you are relying on your team to get work done. In higher education, you have a completely different environment. The structure is there, but it is just different. Also, college is more of an individual effort. And that is something that veterans have to get used to. Typically, how we try to address that here is to make it a little easy in that transition is to through first year programming, setting better expectations, and having an orientation class. Jim (Craig) teaches a seminar class that is required by all incoming freshmen, but his class is tailored specially for veterans. So Jim can address the transitional issues through the course of the semester, and not just through orientation.
I also work at getting them connected to their benefits though the Veterans Administration, such as the GI Bill and their housing stipend. I make sure that they get those in on time. There are some transitional issues and frustration among students who are in classes with younger students. Still, the typical veteran looks like the typical UMSL student. The average age of a veteran is 29, and the average UMSL student is 26. Veterans are adult learners, but you have to consider them on an individual basis.
TC: Is Veterans Affairs involved in any process coming out of any issues that students might have with academic departments, and how do students work through such conflicts in the classroom? (Role of such departments as Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity, Counseling Services, Disability Awareness, etc.)
RM: We can be brought into conversations with all of those offices. Part of my first three months here, I met with all of those offices to establish some connection with the offices mentioned. If it is a veteran having a conflict, we can mediate those issues the student is facing, working within the campus community to help assist the situation.
Basically, we are in an advising role to help, whether it is faculty or staff bringing in the military culture to better understand where the veteran is coming from, and to communicate that to others involved. We do that so that we can come from a better place of understanding vs. not having the veteran feel understood. Miscommunication can happen very easily, but if we can help communicate where the veteran is coming from to work within the campus community, then we can work to get the problem solved.