Student Veterans Transition to College

Support and Recognition for Military Members

“A lot of us served to be able to go to college, get a degree, and achieve social mobility.” —Christopher Webb Christopher Webb ’14 knew when he enlisted for service in the U.S. Army in 2003 that he would have to go to war.

“I knew I was risking my life,” Webb said. “All of us did.”

He spent nearly four years in the military, during which time he was deployed to Afghanistan and injured in combat there. He returned home with a Purple Heart, post-traumatic stress and a chance for a college education, thanks to GI Bill benefits that provide funding for veterans.

“College can be really difficult for veterans,” said Webb, who enrolled in community college before transferring to UNC Asheville in 2012. “I realized later on, looking back on it, that a lot of the issues came from struggling to connect with my fellow students, feeling alone. I was having a really hard time with a lot of PTSD things that came up.”

Easing Transitions

Stephanie Franklin, director of transition and parent programs at UNC Asheville, coordinates veterans’ programs and services on campus. 

“This is a program that is intended to acknowledge veterans and let them know that we are very happy to have them here at UNC Asheville,” said Franklin, “and we really want to help them with their integration into the university community.”

The program includes everything from special celebrations on holidays like Patriot Day and Veterans Day, to offering assistance with navigating the GI Bill.

“It’s very important because we want to respect the work and the sacrifices that our veterans have made,” Franklin said, “and because we know that they have transitions that they have to make.”

“This is a program that is intended to acknowledge veterans and let them know that we are very happy to have them here at UNC Asheville.”
—Stephanie Franklin, director of transition and parent programs

Support and Service

Peer support can be very important to veterans who may otherwise feel like they’re navigating college alone. In 2012, Franklin connected Webb with other student veterans who were interested in starting a student organization on campus, and in the spring of 2013 they established UNC Asheville’s first University Veteran Alliance. 

The group volunteers with Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry’s “Veterans Restoration Quarters,” a nonprofit program serving homeless veterans in the area. 

“Many of them are passionate about volunteering because they have a heart for service to begin with,” said Franklin. “I believe it stems from and resonates well with their military service.” 

Webb also noted that more than half of the participants at the first meeting of the University Veteran Alliance had earned a heart of a different sort—a Purple Heart, designating that they had been wounded in combat.

Honors and Recognition

Jimmie Blackmon salutes during the national anthem at UNC Asheville’s December 2013 Commencement.Making the sacrifices and service of veterans more visible on campus has become a project for Franklin. Each semester, she helps organize a special ceremony for graduating veterans, during which they celebrate their achievements and receive red, white and blue cords to be worn at Commencement, a relatively new honor for such ceremonies in North Carolina. 

Jimmie Blackmon, an Army veteran, was one of five military veterans to graduate from UNC Asheville in December 2013. 

“I accepted the cord in absence of and for the honor of the soldiers who are still providing security for this great country of ours,” Blackmon said.

When Webb graduates in May, he’ll share in the honor. 

“Graduating from college is really important for veterans,” Webb explained. “A lot of us served to be able to go to college, get a degree, and achieve social mobility. A lot of us come from a demographic where it wouldn’t have been possible any other way.”

“It’s important for us as a university to reach out to veterans and let them know that we really do appreciate having them here,” Franklin said, “and for the contributions not only that they’ve made to the country, but also the contributions they make to the UNC Asheville community by being here.”