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OU Green Zone: Providing student veterans a warm welcome

NORMAN — The Green Zone on the University of Oklahoma campus is not a place, but a network of faculty and staff who volunteer to provide specialized assistance for those students who have served in the military.

It started about two years ago as a project of the volunteer group Veteran Support Alliance.

In the beginning, it was just a list of tips how to best serve student veterans, said Jennifer Trimmer, veteran student services coordinator.

Then last fall, OU Green Zone began offering workshops to train interested faculty and staff. Trimmer was hoping to train 100 Green Zone volunteers across campus.

Today there are four times that many and counting. Each one displays a sticker at his or her office to signify “this is someone who knows a little bit more” about veterans’ needs, Trimmer said.

One of the four workshops presented was recorded so faculty and staff now can take the training online. Additional live workshops will be offered to provide updated information as needed, Trimmer said.

Life experiences

Most veterans at OU are four to six years older than the average student, political science professor Shad Satterthwaite said.

“If they have been deployed, their life experiences are going to be vastly different,” said Satterthwaite, faculty sponsor of the Student Veterans Association and a member of the Oklahoma National Guard who deployed to Afghanistan in 2003-04 and again in 2011-12.

“I think it’s a benefit. They enhance the discussion in class.”

But they may need help adjusting to the academic life, and often are reluctant to ask for help when they need it, Satterthwaite said.

It can be a challenge to go from “very scheduled, long days” in the military to what seems to be a lot of free time at college, he said.

It’s a matter of taking the veteran’s work ethic and shifting gears to apply it to school.

Many veterans have a “can-do attitude,” Satterthwaite said. “They hate to admit that ‘I need help, I need guidance.’

“We’re really reaching out to make a case that it’s OK to come on board here,” he said.

The OU Student Veterans Association has about 600 members, Satterthwaite said.

“There are no dues, no application. If you’re a veteran, you can just show up.”

Welcome home

“OU deeply appreciates all that our veterans have done for our country and we want to give them the warmest possible welcome when they come home to OU,” President David Boren said in a statement on the OU Green Zone webpage.

As the Green Zone program continues to grow, Trimmer said she is working to find Green Zone volunteers who are veterans themselves and are willing to serve as mentors to student veterans.

“For many of them, their needs are met,” Satterthwaite said. “But there are some that would appreciate a mentor, someone to talk to.”

Trimmer said it’s her job to give student veterans “a little boost to succeed while they’re here.”

“We have tons of resources right here on campus we can refer students to,” she said.

That might be special tutoring in math for a veteran who has been out of school for a long time or help writing a resume for a student nearing graduation.

“It’s very personalized because they are not all the same,” Trimmer said.

Satterthwaite said he expects to see more veterans coming to campus as the military draws down.

“We want to do the best we can for them.”

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