UWO takes part in research on undergraduate military service members, veterans

November 15, 2019


A new research project focuses on the experiences of undergraduate military service members and veterans enrolled in Wisconsin universities, including the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

The Wisconsin Center for Education Research recently launched the Veteran Education to Workforce Affinity and Success Study (VETWAYS), a three-year, $556,000 research project funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study seeks to better understand the unique social experiences and challenges this special student population encounters as they progress through college and into the workforce.

VETWAYS staff will conduct research through surveys and interviews with students and educators from UW Oshkosh and three other UW schools—Madison, Milwaukee and Stout.

“I believe research that helps to better understand and focuses on the success of student veterans has great value,” said Timber Smith, UWO Veterans Resource Center coordinator.

“This particular research will be extra beneficial to our Veterans Resource Center because it aligns with our primary mission: To provide a central location on each campus to seek guidance, explore available veterans education benefits and campus resources while connecting with other veterans, friends and resource center staff.”

While other studies conducted on student veterans show that social support is important to improving their college experiences, very little research has specifically focused on the relationships that provide them with help, advice, comradery or guidance, said Ross Benbow, the study’s principal investigator.

“Social support has come up as a particularly important factor linked to college success in other studies of student veterans. Our work, which explores how social support connects with students’ college-to-career trajectories, is an important step in the progression of this research.”

Benbow said that student veterans in college face two unique sets of challenges.

“Transitions into college from military lives marked by discipline, a clear chain of command, and a real unity of purpose can be incredibly difficult,” he said, adding that feelings of isolation on campus, coupled with the many bureaucratic hurdles student veterans have to jump in college, may adversely affect persistence.

“Veterans are also more likely to be students of color, first-generation students, older and/or married, and have more off-campus responsibilities. They’re more likely to suffer from trauma due to military experiences than traditional students, as well.”

Benbow added that these characteristics all have been linked to more difficult pathways through college.

Joseph Rasmussen, veteran services coordinator with University Veteran Services at the UW-Madison, is an advisory board member for the new study.

“I am thrilled about the Veteran Education to Workforce Affinity and Success Study. UW-Madison has a strong tradition of public service and research, and this study honors both,” said Rasmussen, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “I’m excited to see the positive real-world impacts these findings will hold for student military service members and veterans as well as for professionals looking to serve them.”

Benbow said VETWAYS can help college administrators and student services professionals—whether veteran coordinators, career counselors, academic advisers, faculty, or other higher education practitioners—shape curricular and programming offerings to better meet the needs of undergraduate military service members and veterans.

“When you’re looking at higher education and the country’s future workforce needs, as my colleagues and I are doing, this is an incredibly skilled, capable and deserving group of students to focus on,” Benbow said. “Colleges and future employers should be competing over these students, so we’re excited to play a small part in better understanding and helping to improve their academic and early-career experiences.”