CSM student and Navy veteran, Bill Buffington, of White Plains, was one of 125 students chosen out of 1,500 applicants to attend the Student Veterans Association (SVA) Leadership Institute in Bentonville, Arkansas, earlier this summer. (Submitted photo)
LA PLATA, Md.—College of Southern Maryland student and Navy veteran, Bill Buffington, of White Plains, was one of 125 students chosen from 1,500 applicants to attend this summers Student Veterans Association (SVA) Leadership Institute in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Hosted by Walmart Corporate Headquarters, the Leadership Institute is a cohort-based program for emerging leaders within the SVA to learn best practices and operational concepts to aid in strengthening the local chapters. In addition to training, attendees had the opportunity to network with Walmart corporate leaders.
I was honored to be chosen to represent the veteran students enrolled at CSM and to learn what other institutions around the country are doing to assist their veteran student populations, said Buffington who is the vice president of CSMs Veterans Organization. The program gave me the opportunity to meet my peers at Florida State, George Mason University, San Diego State and so many other great schools, and to participate in workshops where we collaborated on solutions to real-life scenarios and challenges that affect student veterans on campuses all over the country.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that for fiscal year 2013, there were 1.09 million people as VA education beneficiaries. According to data provided by SVA, 85 percent of student veterans are age 24 or older, 47 percent have a family and 27 percent are female. Speaking to the American Association of Community Colleges in 2012, Former Veterans Administration Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said, At the end of 2011, we had over 950,000 veterans and eligible family members enrolled in college The nation's community colleges have been at the forefront of the new GI Bill, providing high-quality and innovative college courses to over 235,000 Veterans and service members.
"CSM welcomes the opportunity to assist active duty military personnel, veterans and their families," said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried. "As one of the largest veteran-serving colleges or universities in the state of Maryland, CSM is proud to help more than 900 military students and their dependents each year as they strive to reach their academic and career goals."
"Bill Buffington is a fantastic advocate for our veteran students. He actively seeks them out, guides them, and helps them find the resources they need to succeed," said CSM Vice President for Student and Instructional Support Services Dr. Bill Comey.
Buffington, who is studying business administration at CSM, is no stranger to the challenges veteran students face.
Student veterans who are transitioning from a military culture where discipline and precision is required look to their institution to help them transition to an academic culture where diversity of ideas, individualism and creativity are encouraged. Also, consider the frustration a veteran feels when he or she is paired with a student that doesnt have the same level of discipline or motivation, said Buffington.
Veteran students are dealing with other issues as well, including self-identification on campus. They dont want to be labeled or stand out as representing an event that took place while serving, but they also dont want to try to blend in with students who just graduated from high school and have no experiences outside of their hometown. My job as the Veterans Club vice president and the SVA representative is to be the middle manto find out what student veteran needs are and communicate those needs to faculty and college administrators, said Buffington.
Buffington, whose military career included two nominations as Sailor of the Year, and numerous selections as Sailor of the Quarter has achieved just as stellar an academic career. His performance in the class room, has earned him a spot on the Deans List, and he was elected to the colleges chapter of the National Society for Leadership and Success as well as Phi Theta Kappa, the National Honor Society for community colleges.
For Buffington, the SVA Leadership Institute provided many ideas that he will share with staff at CSM such as best practices for recruitment and retention of veteran students, developing a stronger student veteran organization on campus, and further building trust and relationships with college faculty and administrators.
The big take-away from the conference is that the transitioning process requires patience and understanding on all fronts, between student veterans and traditional college students, between college administrators and vets and most importantly between faculty and vets, said Buffington.
In the community, Buffington has founded the Veterans Coffee Break held and sponsored by the La Plata Chic-Fil-A from 9 to 11 a.m. every Monday. Along with free coffee, veterans have the opportunity to meet and network with fellow veterans in the community.
SVA is a non-profit coalition of more than 700 student veteran organizations on college campuses globally with a mission to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. For information, visit www.studentveterans.org.
CSMs Veterans Club is a chapter of SVA. For information, visit http://www.csmd.edu/pub/moroney/veteransclub/.
For information on veteran benefits and programs at CSM, visit http://www.csmd.edu/Current/Veterans/.