At grand reopening, VeTZone space welcomes back student veterans
Campbell Walker isn’t your average Virginia Tech sophomore. For starters, he's already served six years in the Navy. Now 32, the mechanical engineering major finds himself in study groups with students who were still in high school when he was stationed in Hawaii. “We’re in kind of different places in life, but with the same goal,” he said.
Though his time in the military sets Walker apart from most Hokies, there are hundreds of student veterans just like him. And if he wants to hang out with people who relate, he heads to the VeTZone, which on March 23 celebrated its grand reopening as an on-campus lounge and study center for student veterans, drilling reservists, and military dependents.
The VeTZone is operated by the Office of Veteran Services to help military-affiliated students feel welcome on campus. Couches and easy chairs circle a wall-mounted TV. Desks and chairs line the back wall. There’s a mini fridge and a microwave for students like Walker who eat lunch there between classes.
After a temporary relocation to Squires Student Center while the Johnston Student Center underwent renovations, the VeTZone returned to Room 300 when the building reopened earlier this semester.
“It’s a space they need,” said Jana Moser Moore, director of the Office of Veteran Services. That's because adjusting to campus after military service can be challenging. “We just call it ‘the transition,’" she said. "And everybody knows what we’re talking about.”
Some students who are veterans may struggle to socialize, flounder with the relative lack of structure, or feel flummoxed by age and experience gaps. Moser Moore points out that a classroom discussion about geopolitics may be grating for a student who’s been deployed overseas.
Even for veterans who are still in their early 20s, having served four years in the military can make university life feel strange. “Because they had this whole other self-supporting life, their experience can make things feel different than they do for another 22-year-old in the classroom," said Moser Moore.
Although it's hard to pinpoint the exact number of veterans and reservists on campus, many are familiar with the Office of Veteran Services because it works with Virginia Tech’s Bursar’s Office, Registrar’s Office, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Services to process the military educational benefits students use to pay for college. In Hillcrest Hall, where the Office of Veteran Services is located, a support services area provides private consultation rooms and meeting space for orientation or benefit certification.
Not every military-affiliated student responds in the same way to the transition to campus. “They could be struggling and overwhelmed, or they could be rocking it,” said Juan Cordero, a military benefits specialist with the Office of Veteran Services and a former Marine reservist. “I think the biggest thing is not doing it alone. That’s kind of our purpose here.”
When a military-affiliated student who moved to Virginia Tech during COVID emailed the Office of Veteran Services to ask about social events, Cordero took a hands-on approach. He personally introduced her to his own group of military-affiliated friends. “Now I see her every day," he says. "It’s like this built-in network of people who understand you a little more and can commiserate a little.” He also suggests that veterans join the student organization Veterans@VT or the Veterans Caucus.
The VeTZone makes it easier for veterans and military-affiliated students to find the people who share their unique experiences. Walker drops by the VeTZone most days to do homework between classes or meet up with fellow veterans. “Virginia Tech’s top-tier veteran services were one of the things I really liked about the school," he said. “Having a space like this just really reinforces that idea.”
Veterans, military-affiliated students, and military dependents are invited to use the VeTZone in Room 300 of the Johnston Student Center. It’s free and open most weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 pm.