Veterans transition to college, civilian life with freshman seminar

USA Today College
By David Chrisinger
14 Nov 14

By Brooke Metz

Most college freshmen are required to take a seminar, but at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 12 students are fulfilling that first-year requirement in a unique way: with a class specifically designed for veterans.

“Back from the Front: Transitioning from the Military to Civilian Life” strives to do exactly what the class name implies — help veterans make the transition from service to life as civilians.

After years of seeing war first-hand, being far from home and serving with soldiers who become closer than their own siblings, veterans often struggle with the return to everyday life. And that strenuous change is magnified even further when veterans enroll in college.

“It can be really intimidating or anxiety-inducing for new student veterans to be on campus and surrounded by 18-year-olds,” says professor and UWSP alum David Chrisinger. “It’s easy to feel alienated and isolated.”

“Back from the Front” was designed by Chrisinger after seeing his friend struggle to adjust to civilian life upon his return from serving in Afghanistan. Chrisinger had seen similar struggles in his own family, particularly in his grandfather, who suffered from alcoholism after serving in the Pacific in World War II.

“I had seen what happens when they fall through the cracks,” Chrisinger says. “That was motivation for me — to be someone to help.”

In the class, students build on their research and writing skills as they explore history and learn more about other veterans through guest lectures, readings, and discussions. This week’s focus is resilience and post-traumatic growth.

Another goal of the class is to get students engaged with the community. For example, everyone in the class has to attend a UWSP sporting event. And when one student expressed concern over crowds at the events, they decided to all attend a game together.

Chase Vuchetich: “I started to see that there were opportunities that I would never have anywhere else.” (Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point)

“To learn from each other is the biggest goal I have for this class,” Chrisinger says. “Learning from out there, learning from each other and putting it into a narrative so it makes sense to them.”

So far, the class seems to be working. Freshman Chase Vuchetich, who served as an infantryman in the Marine Corps for four years, says the class made him more excited about school.

“I stopped doubting my abilities as a student,” says Vuchetich, who is now studying business. “I started to see that there were opportunities that I would never have anywhere else.”

In addition to discussions and presentations, students also write several essays throughout the semester. Chrisinger plans to use those essays in a collection for publication.

“When I was in high school, I was a C student in English, so I thought no way could I ever be published,” says Vuchetich, 23. “He does things for us that make me think, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know I could do that.’”

Thanks to the success of “Back from the Front,” the course will be offered again next semester. According to Chrisinger, UWSP will welcome 25 new vets to campus second semester, and the veterans’ seminar will have a full class.

Chrisinger says one student told him he would’ve dropped out of school if not for the veterans’ course. The student said the class’s tight-knit community was what he needed to feel like part of the university.

“When you feel you don’t belong you might quit or leave,” Chrisinger says. “Here at the university, we want them to feel included.”

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2 responses to “Veterans transition to college, civilian life with freshman seminar”

  1. Martin Laufe, MD says:

    Your work with the veterans is very inspiring!

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Finding their own way home


UW-Stevens Point seminar helps veterans transition to college life