Several University of Akron student veterans calling themselves “the broken table” showed up for the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE) open house Tuesday afternoon to talk among themselves about their injuries and their future.
Jared Harrison, 25, of Vermilion, served in the Coast Guard for five years but was medically discharged after knee injuries and ultimately had to have surgery. He worked on radar weapons systems on boats in Florida and Seattle, so he wants to pursue a degree in electrical engineering technology. His goal is to work on radar systems at an airport.
He said the PAVE program is a steppingstone to get him there because of all the resources introduced to him.
The program is new to UA this year. UA is one of three Ohio schools selected for the program, and the only one in Northeast Ohio.
PAVE offers peer support and individual attention to veterans, who typically are older than traditional students, and helps them make the transition from military life to college life.
It links first-year student veterans with current student veterans as peer advisers. There are 90 student veterans on campus, a third of whom are women. Of the school’s 23 peer advisers, five are women.
Tyler Czech, 24, of Northfield, spent six years in the U.S. Army as a forward observer, providing intelligence for airstrikes. He said he was good at his job and enjoyed what he did, and that’s why he wants to major in emergency management and homeland security.
Czech was discharged with a 60 percent disability because of his knees. He also works as a bouncer at the Hard Rock Live in Northfield and concert security. He used to work at a gun range.
“I can shoot things and push people around, those are my qualifications from the service,” he said. “I never thought I would go to college. This is a brand new experience.”
He said he had talked to his peer adviser several times via text messages and emails but had yet to meet him face to face. However, that soon was to change. Within minutes he received a text message asking if he was coming to the open house. He responded he was there. A man came up to him, asked if he was Tyler and then introduced himself as Quentin Brown, his peer adviser.
Brown served in the U.S. Marines for eight years. The 27-year-old, who also manages a farm in Medina, wants to be a firefighter. He said he spends about 50-plus hours a week helping fellow vets.
“I recognize the disparity between military service and college life. The culture is different. It’s a different mindset,” Brown said. “In the military, every facet of your life was controlled. In college you are on your own. My job is to advise, to help you stay focused and make sure you have purpose.
“I know. When I first started college I needed help, but my tutoring hours were limited. I found out that no one really cared — and if no one else cared I eventually stopped caring and didn’t put in the effort,” he said. “I’m back at it, and I care. We all care about their educational goals. We’re here to bridge the gap and navigate those pitfalls.”
The veterans were gathered on the third floor of InfoCision Stadium in the Musson lounge for vets. Jay Musson of the American Legion Post 808, one of only two posts on college campuses in Ohio (the other is at Lake Erie College), was there to greet the veterans. He said the lounge is a place where veterans can socialize, study and have access to network computers to the university and free printing. There is also a refrigerator filled with free snacks. The legion offers free one-year memberships the first year.
The PAVE program doesn’t cost UA anything. It is fully funded by the Paralyzed Veterans of America and PAVE — grant funded through the University of Michigan.
Matt Altiere, a psychologist with UA’s Counseling & Testing Center, led the effort to bring the program to UA. Michigan provided all the training for the advisers and shared what resources are available on and off campus. Resources are also available at the Veterans Administration, the counseling center and UA’s Office of Accessibility.
For more information about the program, contact Mary Rossett at email@example.com or 330-972-7382, or Anna Friske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.