EDINBORO -- Anthony Canzonieri knows first hand what it's like to be a veteran returning from service to start college.
After returning from a tour in Iraq for the U.S. Army, Canzonieri returned stateside and enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania. He was 22 years old, had a family to take care of and quickly realized that he had a different perspective than most of his classmates after serving overseas.
"I dealt with a lot of general transition issues," Canzonieri said. "You're coming from a very regimented military life and you're not a traditional student. It's just a different life. But I found that when I started to overcome those difficulties is when I found other veterans who were a little older and further along in the process."
Now, he is trying to return the favor.
Canzonieri, 26, is the coordinator for Edinboro University of Pennsylvania's new Veterans Success Center. The center seeks to help returning veterans more quickly make the transition into higher education.
There's a number of things his office can do to make things easier on veterans, Canzonieri said.
Many students will be introduced to the center because it's now the hub for dealing with students' funding through the federal GI Bill. He said the center will also help students get services through organizations like the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
"Basically I want to be the single point of contact for veteran students," he said. "So they can come here, explain there problems and when they come back I'll have a solution."
There are roughly 200 veteran students on campus by the centers count, although Canzonieri said there could be a few his office did not identify.
The Veterans Success Center, located in the university's Crawford Center, starts in earnest this semester, and Canzonieri expects it to make a noticeable difference in the lives of veterans at the school. He said the university was already supportive of veterans -- it has been named a "Military Friendly School" by GI Jobs magazine for four consecutive years -- but his office can create a safe place for students to enjoy.
The center includes a lounge area which will soon feature computers and a flat screen TV. He said it's important to give veterans a chance to relax and interact with others with similar experiences.
"It's their space, and they know when they're in here they can say things they wouldn't normally say in the regular student population," he said. "They can act like themselves and feel like they're not constantly explaining themselves."
Canzonieri plans to soon hire three to five students to work in the center as work-study employees. But for now he is the center's only staff member.
He said one of his biggest strengths is he has been in the same position as the students he deals with and knows what they're feeling.
"That veteran who is walking in my door -- I was him three months ago," he said.
To that same end, Canzonieri is working with a group of students to create a new Student Veteran Group, which will be recognized as a chapter of the national Student Veterans of America and he hopes will soon be an approved student organization.
He said that organization will give students the chance to interact with each other while doing community service projects.
"It will help increase their recognition on campus and give them a louder voice," he said.
Canzonieri said making veteran students more comfortable on campus will have multiple benefits for the university.
Veteran students traditionally have a lower six-year graduation rate than the rest of the student population Canzonieri said. Helping more veterans graduate from the college in four years with the least amount of debt possible will aid the university's wider retention and student success initiatives, he said.
He also expects his center to lead to a bump in enrollment from veterans.
He said veterans have a good system of word of mouth, and he expects his center to help bump the number of veterans on campus by 10 percent
Canzonieri said having more veterans on campus will be a boon for the university.
"Veteran students are more disciplined," Canzonieri said. "They're very structured when it comes to work, and they bring a different point of view."
He said having more veterans in the classroom can only enhance discussion in history or current events classes.
He said a lot of the Veterans Success Center's services and operations will be modeled after the university's new Academic Success Center, which has similar goals of retention and helping students graduate more quickly for the general student population.
He said the center will track the individual grades of students to see who might need intervention and the overall grade-point average of the veteran population to see how successful they are.
Canzonieri stressed that his center's services aren't open to only students who are done with their time in the service. He said students in ROTC, the National Guard, reservists and family members of veterans can take advantage of all the center has to offer.
For more information on the Veterans Success Center at Edinboro University, call 732-1553 or visit http://veterans.edinboro.edu.
Sean McCracken can be reached at 870-1714 or by e-mail.