The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee educates more veterans than any other college or university in Wisconsin, and faculty and students from the College of Health Sciences have helped make that happen. Several years ago, in 2009, Clinical Associate Professor Heidi Plach, MS, OTR, and retired Professor Emerita Carol Haertlein Sells, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, from the Department of Occupational Science and Technology, assessed the needs of student veterans on campus. The results spurred change in the areas of community and recognition for veterans on campus.
Creating a veteran community
One of the needs UWM veterans highlighted was the desire for a space on campus to relax, study and connect with other veterans. In November of 2012, this dream became a reality when the Military and Veterans Resource Center (MAVRC) opened on campus.
The Resource Center provides a welcoming place for those who served. The staff helps veteran students transition to school, creates awareness of veterans and military personnel on campus and establishes partnerships with the Milwaukee community.
The work the Center does is essential, however, as Plach stated, “Veteran needs are different now than they were ten years ago.” To address the every changing needs, a Veterans Advisory Council, comprised of UWM faculty and staff including Plach and Associate Professor Virginia Stoffel, PhD, OT, BCMH, FAOTA, from the Department of Occupational Science and Technology, advise the Chancellor.
Recognizing those who served
Another area where the UWM community fell short was in recognizing and honoring veteran students. Student veteran Ryan Greendeer, partnered with Plach to co-host the first UWM Veteran’s Recognition Day on November 11, 2010.
Before the event, students from the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) set up 1,200 flags in UWM’s Spaights Plaza. Each flag represented a UWM student veteran.
The event was focused on “Fostering a Connected Campus Community” and featured a speech from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. There was also a moderated veteran panel, a performance by Guitars for Vets in the Concourse, and the Dryhootch mobile unit came to Spaights Plaza.
New progress for current veterans
Honoring those who served has taken on a new meaning for the UWM campus community. Instead of a daylong celebration, we now have a full week’s worth of events.
This year, UWM’s MAVARC hosted eight events from November 2nd to 9th to honor veterans. The activities included the 5th Annual Military and Veterans Ball, a VA Mobile Vet Center van, Women Veterans: An Evening of Chocolate, the 6th Annual “Serving Those Who Served Brunch,” and the Willie Weaver-Bey Art Show.
Plach and Stoffel both volunteered at the “Serving Those Who Served Brunch.” Serving the veterans and military personnel only seems fitting because as Plach stated, “Remarkable work gets done because of the UWM community’s passion and commitment to serve student veterans.”