By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER - Cameron Cook, veteran student services director, says the University of Colorado Denver's Office of Veteran Student Services is well on its way to becoming a national model for supporting veterans and ensuring their post-university success.
Veteran Student Services today celebrated its new 1,600-square-foot office space in Room 124 at the Tivoli Student Union with a grand opening and open house. The office, which has two full-time staff members and 10 student employees, has already received more than 800 visits since opening the doors a month ago.
"It's been very utilized," Cook said. "A lot of times, like during lunch hour, this place is packed. A lot more people are coming in and being involved."
Chancellor Don Elliman and Provost Rod Nairn attended the celebration as well as members of the Veteran Student Organization (VSO), the largest veteran student group in the state, represented by VSO President Ashley Metcalf, and other members of the veteran community.
Building a community of veteran students who support each other, engage in the wider community and successfully transition into the workforce is the goal of Veteran Student Services, Cook said. He thanked the university and its leadership for expanding services to the student population with military ties, which has grown to 900 this fall and promises to keep growing as more service men and women return from overseas.
Compared to the previous Veterans Student Services office in Larimer Plaza, veteran students now find a computer lab, study area, kitchen, file storage and other amenities that were lacking in the 400-square-foot space. Benefits processing under the G.I. Bill now takes 24 hours -- a task that previously took three days.
"Before, we used to have a lot of people in the office and we were all on top of each other," said Patrick Browne, the office's program manager. "Now ... we're able to streamline the process and get the benefits quicker, which gets money to the students quicker."
"We want to set the standard," Cook said. "We want to be the best in the country. We want to be the model that other people follow. ... Our model is supporting students through the whole thing -- that's what it's all about."
Elliman thanked the veterans for their service to the country as well as their ground-breaking work through Veteran Student Services. "Student support and success is a huge issue for us," he said. "It's something we need to work on systemwide, and to see you guys setting the example of how to do that is a model not only for other universities around the United States, but for us as we think about our students as a whole."
Nairn likewise applauded the efforts of Cook, Browne and their staff and said the work is just beginning. "An urban campus like ours, I think, is going to be a place that's going to attract those students more than most places," he said. "I think we're going to see tremendous change, and we're going to do everything we can ... to make it as good an experience as possible."
The university is leading the way in transitioning veterans from military to academia (Veteran Student Mentor Program), retention and support (VSO services) and transitioning veterans from academia to the workforce (Boots to Suits program).
The office hopes to add a full-time counselor as well. Seminars will be held on subjects such as study skills and time management. All activities are geared toward integrating the veterans -- who come from a family-like, camaraderie-rich environment in the military -- into the self-directed university environment.
"We don't want to be a silo. We don't want to be shut off," Cook said. "Part of this whole college experience and transitioning is reintegrating with society. A lot of veterans are coming to school to do that, and we're going to facilitate that."
(Photo: From left, Provost Rod Nairn, Chancellor Don Elliman and Veteran Student Services Director Cameron Cook cut the ribbon to open the new Office of Veteran Student Services in Room 124 of the Tivoli Student Union.)