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Hunter's Student Veterans Honored for Service and Academic Excellence

 Hunter's Student Veterans Honored for Service and Academic Excellence

At the 4th annual Veterans Academic Awards Breakfast: Marty Martineau, Jonathan Fermin-Robbins, Gilberto Soriano, Kevin Verbosky, Alex Rosero

Hunter College will appear as a TOP SCHOOL in the 2017 edition of Military Advanced Education & Transition (MAET), a publication that helps present and former service members make good educational choices. The result of a nationwide survey, MAET's annual list pulls together a list of institutions that provide veterans with superior educational opportunities, as well as financial support and other vital benefits and accommodations. This announcement, which occurred shortly before Veterans Day, validates the tremendous efforts on campus to connect to student veterans and make their college experience a comfortable, positive reintegration into civilian life.  

It comes right on the heels of an event to celebrate and recognize Hunter's student veterans, the 4th annual Veterans Academic Awards Breakfast. These awards, which recognize soon-to-graduate student veterans across CUNY schools, celebrated 14 students from Hunter who earned a 3.5 or higher GPA. Afterwards, a veteran resource and professional networking fair presented awardees and student veterans from across CUNY the opportunity to meet with more than 30 organizations who are actively recruiting veterans to their workforce.  

It can be hard to be a student after being a soldier; besides the challenges that everyone in college faces—managing workload, navigating course selection, balancing personal responsibilities and financial obligationsthere are additional hurdles to negotiate. There are the psychological and physical tolls of war, the bureaucracy of Veterans Affairs to deal with, and the particularities of going through college as an older student. Returning to collegiate life as a non-traditional age student, after a hiatus while serving in the military, or still being part of a reserve unit, involves time, patience and support. That's where Hunter College's Student Veteran Services steps in.  

For the more than 260 veterans pursuing their studies at Hunter, all of these issues take up prominent mental space, says Jonathan Fermin-Robbins, a political science major at Hunter and one of the student veterans honored at the Awards Breakfast. Fermin-Robbins, a member of the Thomas Hunter Honors Program, came to Hunter after 12 years in Germany. He joined the Army in 2003 and served overseas for 6 years. While he was never on the front lines, he says that "enlisting felt like a calling—it was an honor and privilege to serve my country." On the first day of basic training, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of combat operations in Iraq; Fermin-Robbins and his fellow soldiers watched the coverage on a small, grainy television in their barracks hall.  

When he made his move back to the States—and back to his studies—the resources that Hunter provided were welcome. Project for Return and Opportunity Veterans Education (P.R.O.V.E.,) an organization based out of the Silberman School of Social Work, helps students with their transition from service to college life, aiming to improve retention and graduation rates by giving students access to resources and a community of people who understand the veteran experience.   

Another attempt to help veterans assimilate their experience and connect with one another is "The Experience of War: Moral Transformation, Injury, and Repair," a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities that began this fall at Hunter. As part of a larger NEH initiative to promote understanding of the military experience and support returning veterans, Hunter received a grant to bring groups of veterans and nonveterans together to discuss classic works of literature that examine war, for close reading and personal interpretation. A series of public events will bring internationally acclaimed researchers, writers, and thinkers to discuss and deepen the community conversation about military conflict and the humanities, and the deep personal and public issues that experiences of war provoke.  

As President of the Student Veterans' Club, Fermin-Robbins is well aware of, and very committed to the complicated needs of his fellow student veterans, including the wide-reaching but poorly understood problem of PTSD. The Student Veterans Club, which meets monthly, works closely with P.R.O.V.E. to provide support to student veterans—from help navigating the intricacies of paperwork, to housing advice, to purely recreational activities like bowling nights. The bonds formed in combat are rare and precious, and finding a sense of community at Hunter post-service has been important to Fermin-Robbins and his fellow veterans. "College is about the people that you meet, the connections that you make—that's how you build your professional and social network," he says. And he feels that his fellow veterans have a particularly profound appreciation for education. They're pursuing their studies with a sense of agency and maturity, because they've already been out in the world; now they can come back to school ready to commit to the full experience of academia. Fermin-Robbins has particularly enjoyed studying German, a language he learned by informal necessity during all those years abroad: "Now I'm finding out how I know what I know."  

Public service still calls to Fermin-Robbins, but now—with a Hunter education under his belt—he plans to do it from a different vantage point. When he graduates, he will pursue a law degree, and then hopes to go onto work in government, either on a local or national level.

On Veterans Day, as the nation acknowledges the profound gifts of all the brave men and women who have served our country, Hunter salutes all of our courageous student veterans. "Hunter College is enormously proud of our student veterans, on this day and year round," says President Jennifer J. Raab. "We all benefit from the sacrifices they have made, the bravery they have shown, and the wisdom they bring to our community. So many of our veterans go on to serve in new ways—through the health professions, social work, scientific research, public policy, and the arts, and Hunter is committed to their continued success and continued growth."

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