TU Administration adds positions to attract and aid more student veterans

Last week, The Collegian reported that Tom Russell, a TU alum, had donated a large sum to TU, part of which went towards the creation of three new permanent staff positions to help student veterans navigate their college and professional careers. Two of those positions are currently filled: a director of TU’s veteran’s affairs and a veteran recruiter.
For Cindy Watts, the Director of Veteran Affairs, Russell’s donation meant a title change. Watts has worked at TU for 30 years, serving most recently as the Associate Registrar. Now she is the Associate Registrar and the Director of Veteran’s Affairs.
In Watts’s case, the title change does not affect her duties. The Director of Veteran’s Affairs is expected to fill out the paperwork necessary for the various GI Bills veterans come to school with, so that they can get tuition payments or stipends for housing and books.
Before her title change, however, Watts performed these duties for TU’s veteran’s population and any dependents or spouses who were also covered by GI bills.
While her workload is currently manageable, Watts said if the population of veterans increases, which is the university’s goal, she will leave her associate registrar duties. “I’m not superwoman, I can’t do it all,” she said. Over the years, Watts has noticed a slight increase in the amount of veterans attending TU, but hopes next fall the school will see a larger increase.
Watts was also part of the original push for TU to become a Yellow Ribbon school. Without this designation, the VA caps the amount of tuition paid at $22805.34 for an entire year for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, including fall, spring and summer semesters. As part of the Yellow Ribbon program, TU splits the remainder of the cost with the VA; half is paid by TU scholarships while the VA pays the other half of the veteran’s tuition and fees. “At first, we put a cap on the number of people who could attend,” she said, but the university erased the cap, so an unlimited number of veterans can attend.
In the case of the veteran recruiter, the story is different. Will Rojas, the new transfer admissions counselor and veteran recruiter, just began work at TU six weeks ago thanks to Russell’s donation.
Previously, Rojas had worked for a community service council initiative, where he was helping to house homeless vets. “It was a holistic type of program. We not only focused on housing but we also looked at getting employment, making sure any VA benefits they were eligible for they were enrolled in, and any other services, such as mental health, they were getting,” he explained.
As for why he accepted the position at TU, Rojas had several reasons, the first of which being his status as a TU alum, having obtained his Master’s degree in Indus- trial Psychology from TU. But Rojas is also a veteran from the U.S. Army, serving both enlisted and as an officer. “I thought the position fit the skillset that I had,” he said, “and I thought it’d be a great position to come back to and use the skills and experience and the connections within the community to really help our veterans.” The transitions between jobs was made smoother, he said, by his experience as a student in multiple capacities — as a traditional student, non traditional student and an online student.
Because Rojas joined the Army straight out of high school, he experienced TU as a veteran, and believes the university has “made a great change for the better” since he was here in 2000. He recalled that he “re- ally didn’t know about any veteran services when I was here, and even when I was an undergraduate [at Cameron University], there was really no veteran services there.”
Aside from Watts’s position, Rojas re- marked that the TU Student Veteran’s Association and Veteran House provide excellent student support. Cameron University, where he received his undergraduate degree, was close to his hometown, so he knew about the services in the community and had connections. But for veterans who didn’t grow up in the Tulsa area or who aren’t from north- eastern Oklahoma, having TU SVA and the veteran house might be crucial, Rojas said, as “it really helps them out as far as finding other services they might need.”
In his new position as veteran recruiter, Rojas will help the school to understand what the military culture is like and make connections with local and national military organizations, like the Wounded Partner- ship of Eastern Oklahoma and the Folds of Honor. By working with these organizations, Rojas will promote the TU brand to veterans, so that they know TU is a veteran friendly school, as well as the other qualities of TU that apply to all students, like undergraduate research or small class sizes. His position will also work to ensure a continued support of veterans, from continued support of TU SVA and the veteran house and finding new ways to help veterans on campus.
But Rojas’s work will also encompass transfer students. Combining these positions makes sense, he said, as he estimated about two-thirds of veterans have some type of college credit taken from another school before coming to TU, whether it be from an online class or a class on the installation they were serving on. Even he matched this description, as he took a history course while in Turkey from Central Texas College. For this part of his position, Rojas will work with community colleges, like TCC, to provide information and help them under- stand how credits might transfer.
Eventually, these two new positions will be accompanied by a veteran career place- ment coordinator. This position will help student veterans with career placement dur- ing their time at TU.

Post Author: Michaela Flonard