By Sophia Harris
Veteran Services Coordinator Christine Denaro is developing new programming and assistance initiatives to further support veteran students at Framingham State.
There are 115 veterans enrolled at Framingham State, as well as 25 military-connected students, according to Denaro.
Denaro said the Office of Veteran Services is currently working to establish a Service, Academics, Leadership, Unity, Tribute, and Excellence (SALUTE) chapter at FSU, to honor veterans and military-connected students’ academic achievements.
The chapter provides formal recognition for “service and academics, leadership, volunteering and resume development, community engagement, opportunities to network with as well as give and receive assistance to fellow veterans, eligibility for SALUTE scholarships, and more,” according to Denaro.
She said SALUTE, which was established and has its headquarters at Colorado State University, “is the only national honor society in the nation recognizing and honoring the service and scholastic achievements of veterans.”
Denaro added she “is always looking for ways to make things easier for veterans, but FSU faculty and staff are caring and accommodating and instrumental to their success,” also.
To make things easier for veteran students, Denaro said she has partnered with Bedford Veterans Affairs Healthcare to make the Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership (VITAL) program available to student veterans.
This program is a national veterans’ health initiative that helps veterans transition to and succeed in college, according to Denaro.
She said the innovation helps veterans connect to VA healthcare, academic achievement, mental health treatment, and employment exploration.
Denaro said most student veterans at FSU will be spending the upcoming Veterans Day with their families.
She added, “A few of us plan on going to Gillette Stadium Field for Boots on the Ground for Heroes.”
Boots on the Ground for Heroes is a “patriotic memorial displaying 7,026 boots honoring U.S. service members who were killed in the Global War on Terror post 9/11,” according to Denaro.
The Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation, in partnership with Cross Insurance and Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, will be hosting this memorial in Gillette Stadium on Nov. 12.
In conjunction with the new programming and initiatives that will be offered at FSU to further support veterans, the Veteran Services Center, located in Dwight Hall 113, is a place for community, support, and guidance.
Denaro said the Veteran Services Center is a designated spot on campus for veterans to “facilitate connections through veteran-centered events and activities because interacting with other veterans helps maintain the sense of camaraderie that was shared while in the military.”
She said the Center provides easier access to multiple resources on and off campus partly due to the collaboration “with local, state and national veterans-support organizations.”
She added because most student veterans commute, the “Vet Center becomes their home away from home.”
Veteran student Shiba Nankya, who is now in the reserves, said her experience with the Veteran Services Center is “enjoyable.”
She said it is a nice place to study and drink a cup of tea.
Nankya said she enjoys having a spot on campus to meet and connect with other veteran students on campus.
Tom Mahan, who served for approximately four years on active duty in Washington state as a military police officer, said Framingham State does a “great job of having resources available” for veterans.
He said as a commuter, it is pleasant to have a designated space on campus that provides a spot to do homework and enjoy the company of other veterans.
He said the Center has “plenty of desks and outlets, making it a nice place to do your homework or just study or just hang out with some other veterans.”
He added it helps him connect with people in the same community.
He said through his time at Framingham State, he has learned about veterans' assistance and benefits that are available to him.
Jared MacLeod said he feels “really supported” as a military-affiliated student at Framingham State.
He said, “Christine does a really good job making sure we get what we need” to succeed at FSU.
Marc Chan said he was on active duty for five-and-a-half years and is now fully separated from the military.
He said when he first came to Framingham State, he was worried about fitting in as a non-traditional student. He said Veteran Services helped him transition and find his place at FSU. He is now studying computer science.
Chan said when applying to schools, Framingham State was the most helpful and accommodating to him as a veteran and that is the main reason he chose to go to school here.
He added, “Christine was very helpful with the forms I needed to submit and what I had to do to be here.”
Tom McGowan, who was on active duty in the Air Force for six years in the Middle East, said the Veteran Services Center is “wonderful.”
McGowan added he values the sense of community the Center provides. “If you are having a bad day, you can talk it through with people. It doesn't matter what - whether it's school or life problems.”
He said, “I think if someone's having a life problem, we have enough life experience to hopefully help anyone else - whether they are veterans or students.”
Peter Chisholm, FSU’s government relations representative, said the Veteran Services Center “provides a really nice sense of community - we have a great group of veterans here,” at a Veterans Day Lunch at the Center on Nov. 8.
President Nancy Niemi said she thinks the Center and the resources provided to students are excellent.
Niemi said the University can do even more for veterans’ needs. “We can support their educational endeavors and also in ways that are specific to their circumstances.”
She added, “I want people who are working here and who are working with veterans to help understand what those [the circumstances] are - so we can grow our work.”
Denaro said, “We strive to support veteran and military students from their first contact through their graduation and into rewarding careers.”