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Veteran & Military Student Services: Honoring Veterans and Strengthening Career Pathways

November 10, 2021

During her second week as the new director of Veteran & Military Student Services (VMSS) at CU Denver, Leona Lopez, PhD, will be celebrating Veterans Day at the Auraria Campus on Thursday, Nov. 11. “The importance of Veterans Day cannot be overstated,” Lopez said. “Less than 10% of the U.S. adult population have served their country in the armed forces and less than 1% of the U.S. population are currently serving in the armed forces. This is the day to recognize and give thanks to those who have served their country honorably during wartime or peacetime.”

Veterans Day & Holistic Support

“Veterans Day is celebrated each year on Nov. 11 to honor the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. This is the exact day, time, and hour that signaled the end of World War I,” Lopez explained.

Approximately 1,200 military-connected students currently attend CU Denver, and the office of Veteran & Military Student Services supports them holistically. “Our office provides a solid system of support to veterans, active-duty personnel, and their dependents as they transition from the military to a post-secondary environment and beyond,” Lopez said.

Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Enrollment and Student Success Monique Snowden, PhD, who started her CU Denver role this summer, plans for VMSS to continue focusing on comprehensive military/veteran student success. “In keeping step with the university’s commitment to ‘Make Education Work for All,’ under Dr. Lopez’ leadership, the office will focus on strengthening career preparation pathways for veteran and military-affiliated students,” she said. “An aspirational goal is to establish a CU Denver Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success, with seed funding from the U.S. Department of Education. A center of this nature would be dedicated to ensuring veteran and military-affiliated learners receive integrated services, advising, coaching, and peer support to ensure their academic and career success.”

Emotional Intelligence and Mental Health

Lopez, who has published research about how emotional intelligence can increase retention and graduation rates, intends to continue the office’s successful programs and introduce new initiatives: “Our services and support for military-connected students include assistance with education benefits, peer mentoring, tutoring referrals, institutional and community resource referrals, and our outstanding Boots to Suits program!”

Lopez would like to add a veteran’s lending library, a program she previously implemented at Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC). At PPCC, she served as programs manager of Military & Veterans Programs, coordinating and directing PPCC instructional degree programs at Peterson Space Force Base.

Yvonne Dinsmore, MA, a U.S. Marine Corps and Army Reserve veteran who served as VMSS interim director, explained some of the difficulties military and veteran students experience. “Many veterans struggle with the transition out of the military into higher education and civilian life,” she said. “Some are first generation with little to no knowledge of how college works or how to use their VA education benefits. Many haven’t been in school in years, so a lot of the knowledge they learned back then has been lost. Going from a very structured environment to an unstructured environment can be really challenging.”

Lopez also values mental health services. As a member of the Council of College and Military Educators and someone who is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA, Lopez understands the importance of supporting veteran and military students. Her goals include “introducing new initiatives to eliminate barriers to degree attainment and honoring the legacy of former VMSS Director Patrick Browne by ensuring that all of our military-connected students have a solid system of support and the necessary resources to assist them in their academic journeys—and beyond the classroom.”