Veterans transition from military life to university life

On last year’s anniversary of 9/11, students placed American flags around campus.

During college, many talk of making plans or chasing dreams, but Sandra Damiron is here to figure out what to do after she has lived her dream. 

“In school, they keep asking what my dream is,” she said. “I already lived it; I was a Marine.” 

The 24-year-old mother of two’s story is reflective of the approximately 900 veterans enrolled on campus this semester. 

“A lot of people think the number one challenge veterans face is PTSD, but it’s not,” said Jennifer Stout, the assistant director for the USF Office of Veterans Services. “Most people coming to school are past that and are trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives.” 

The average student veteran is a little older, Stout said. Many are used to having had a career already, a family and a steady source of income. Relating to the traditional student coming straight from high school can be challenging. 

Damiron said she initially found the transition from life in the military to life at school difficult. 

While serving as a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2007-2011, she said she had gotten used to taking orders and executing them. She found herself facing culture shock after returning to the classroom. 

“Most students’ sense of responsibility differs from mine,” she said. “The lack of respect for teachers was shocking.” 

Initially, she found herself snapping at the rest of the students, telling them to be quiet when the teacher was talking because it came as second nature. During her first semester at USF, she said she was only comfortable speaking up in classes with other veterans. 

Some of her fellow veterans who have also returned to school face similar plights. One of her friends posted on Facebook how frustrated he was with all the “little kids” in his class. 

At USF, Stout said the Office of Veterans Services offers several programs and initiatives designed to ease the transition, from socials with other veterans to courses designed to help veterans build better connections and relationships with professors and mentors on campus. These courses teach veterans networking skills that can help them unite the skills and interests already acquired in the military with civilian and campus life. 

Damiron said she initially came to USF in Spring 2014 as an anthropology major, but switched to elementary education after speaking with advisers on campus. It’s something she felt would be more practical in supporting her two children. 

“It’s not my dream job, but it is what it is,” she said. “It’s a little sad that chapter of my life is closed, but you got to move forward. You got to find purpose and fulfillment in whatever it is you do.”