David Rodriguez and Nancy Mares spent part of Election Day, Nov. 6, enjoying fried chicken and some friendly banter on the grounds of Mount St. Mary’s Doheny Campus. The two Army veterans were among about 35 military-connected students, faculty and staff who enjoyed a meal during the evening’s “All-American Barbecue” prepared to honor the Mount’s veterans.
Rodriguez spent six years in the U.S. Army as a petroleum supply specialist and did two tours of duty in Iraq. Mares served eight years as a U.S. Army surgical technician, spending part of her time at a base in Germany.
Now, Rodriguez and Mares are each enrolled in Mount St. Mary’s Associate Degree in Nursing program. “I had friends who went here and recommended the program,” Mares says. “I work at a [Veterans Affairs] Hospital, serving vets and that’s what I want to keep doing as a nurse.”
“I have a job as a clerk right now, but this is something I wanted to do,” Rodriguez says. “And I can do it because the College has a good evening program. I don’t have to quit my job. I can still work while I get my degree.”
For veterans like Rodriguez and Mares, transition back to the academic world has been eased with the help of a new reintegration process at Mount St. Mary’s.
Learning to help
Back in 2003, nursing professor Madeleine Bruning had a promising pediatrics student who was deployed to Afghanistan. Bruning told him he could always come back and resume his studies when he was able.
Five years later, in 2008, the student contacted Bruning and asked if he could still return. “We told him ‘of course,’” Bruning says. “But it was a learning experience for us. Though we had administrative support, we realized we had no system in terms of reintegrating him in the program.”
They had to determine how much knowledge the student had retained, where he needed to begin his studies, and if he had the emotional readiness to re-enter the nursing program. "He had to make sure he was ready to be in hospitals again and in clinical areas such as emergency rooms and trauma units,” Bruning says. “Those are big triggers for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress.”
Bruning’s student succeeded in making the transition, graduated and began working as a nurse. With the help and encouragement of other veterans in the Mount community, Bruning decided to take what she had learned and create a new support system of resources for future veterans coming to the College.
She took courses in Military Social Work at the University of Southern California. With assistance from Jane Lingua, vice president of Student Affairs at Mount St. Mary's, Bruning received full backing from the College's leadership team to implement a veterans’ support system that would be based on learning individual needs — not a one-size-fits-all approach.
This Tuesday, Nov. 13, Bruning and Rebecca Otten, an adjunct professor in the Mount’s Master of Science in Nursing program, will share their approach at the University of South Florida. Bruning and Otten are presenters at “Joining Forces to Restore Lives,” a national conference on nursing education and research in veterans’ health.
Their presentation illustrates how to take veterans’ existing strengths and apply those strengths to school. “The first thing is simply to connect with our veterans and family members of active service members,” Bruning says. “If they can connect with others here, they’re more likely to make it through.
“Then it’s getting our veterans to see that their military skills are transferrable to school and to a new career. Recognize those past successes and bring those forward to what you’re pursuing now.”
A new round of resources
On Veterans Day, the College launches another round of support for its military-related students, faculty and staff: a new repository of veterans’ resources on Mount St. Mary’s website: http://www.msmc.la.edu/veterans.asp
The site contains information from partner organizations, community resources and reintegration advice, as well as contact info and veterans services offered at the Mount for current and prospective students.
“There’s still much more to come,” Bruning says. “We’re identifying mentors for veterans arriving as new students. And one of our own undergraduate students, an Air Force veteran named Megan Rodriguez, is starting an on-campus club for military-connected students.
“We’ve got a lot of wonderful staff and faculty helping us with our efforts to better assist the veterans within our Mount family. And our support will keep growing with each new lesson we learn.”