During his stay in the United States Navy, Wilkes-Barre native John Smith had the opportunity to travel to such faraway destinations as Thailand, Panama and Brazil, amongst others. But there was something missing from those exotic locales, something the Navy could not offer him, something that made Smith long for home.
It was his family.
When Smith finished his tour in the Navy, it was not long before he returned to his hometown and reunited with his loved ones. A civilian once again, Smith also had a desire to re-enter the halls of academia. Soon enough, this desire led him to enroll at Wilkes University. It was, Smith said, a perfect fit.
Apparently, Smith is not the only member of the armed services who feels that way. Wilkes was recently named by G.I. Jobs magazine as one of the most military-friendly schools in America. Of the 8,000 colleges and trade schools surveyed by G.I. Jobs nationwide, Wilkes now ranks as one of the elite 1,518 selected for the list.
This is not the first year in which the university has received this honor, and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Kaster, who now works at the school teaching meteorology and advising student veterans, said he’s sure it won’t be the last.
“This is only the second of many, many more to come,” Kaster said. “I think we’ll be doing this year after year.”
Elaborating on the steps the school takes in an attempt to extend the olive branch to members of the military, Kaster points to his own efforts as on-campus veterans outreach counselor, as well as the university’s close relationship with Air Force ROTC Detachment 752 and NEPA Army ROTC. Particularly notable is Wilkes’ participation in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Yellow Ribbon Program.
Smith agrees that Yellow Ribbon serves as one of the most attractive advantages Wilkes offers to veterans. The program, which provides enhanced education benefits for post-9/11 veterans, was instrumental in Smith’s decision to attend Wilkes, as well as in helping him make the transition back into civilian life.
“They pay a hundred percent of my tuition,” Smith explained, “and they also give me a stipend to live off so I don’t have to worry about work while I’m trying to learn.”
Joseph Brown, a former member of the Air Force who now studies computer science at Wilkes, similarly cites the university’s participation in Yellow Ribbon as a major way in which Wilkes makes itself more welcoming to veterans. However, Brown remarked that what he may benefit from most is the school’s treatment of him as a student on equal footing with his non-military classmates, neither over- nor underprivileged.
“I feel the fact that you’re treated as just a normal student is a positive,” Brown said. “You don’t have another crutch. … You have to work just as hard as everyone else.”
It’s sentiment reiterated by Smith, who notes that although instructors are sympathetic to his status as someone who has “been out of the process of learning for so long,” he doesn’t feel like he is given any special treatment.
At the same time, Kaster assures that “just a normal student” does not necessarily translate to “just another student.” One of the things he feels veteran and non-veteran students alike mutually gain is Wilkes’ overall commitment to intimate classrooms with an emphasis on students as unique individuals rather than faceless members of an anonymous mass.
“As a student here,” Kaster said simply, “you are not a number.”