Military Mindfulness


Veterans at FAU: From left, Donald Gabriel, Meghan Ross, Lenny Polidor, Cheryl Krause-Parello, Jaxon Crosby

Florida Atlantic: Military Mindfulness

Florida is home to nearly 1.5 million military veterans — the third-largest veteran population in America. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, thousands in this community are able to further their education at nationally ranked institutions, including Florida Atlantic University.

In 2020, Florida Atlantic’s student population of military veterans, dependents, active-duty, National Guard and Reserve members, grew to encompass nearly 5 percent of the University’s total enrollment — a number that continues to increase along with FAU’s service-related support.

“FAU has invested in the resources to support veterans and dependents,” said Donald Gabriel, director of FAU’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. “By establishing a center to process all VA requirements for students to use their benefits, we help streamline processes and ease students’ transition from military to campus life.”

Of the many resources offered to veteran students, the majority are rendered by FAU’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees administrative tasks such as financial aid registration and enrollment certification. Working in tandem with this office, the Military and Veterans Student Success Center provides support in a more holistic form by offering services such as peer-to-peer tutoring and mentoring. Closely aligned with both areas is FAU’s student organization, the Veteran Owls, which organizes valuable social engagement opportunities including networking events, tailgates and ruck marches, which are military-style hikes with added weight from rucksacks or backpacks. The FAU ROTC program also provides top-tier leadership instruction for students who wish to become commissioned officers upon graduation. Together, these resources form a central hub for military-affiliated students to succeed at all they seek to accomplish.

“Attending a veteran-friendly school that empowered students with military backgrounds was high on my priority list,” said Jaxon Crosby, a veteran dependent pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health science. “FAU is annually voted as one of the most military-friendly schools and that definitely played a role in my decision to attend.”

Based on the value delivered by FAU’s Military and Veterans Student Success Center, the University has been recognized as Military Friendly for 11 consecutive years. Moreover, it earned two “Gold” designations and, in 2022, was further recognized as a Military Spouse Friendly School for providing sustainable and meaningful education pathways for military spouses and dependents. These achievements are not only important signifiers of success for those seeking an education, but they also provide valuable benchmarks and goals for the University, when it comes to increasing support for students who have served in the armed forces.

As part of FAU’s Side-by-Side: Career Readiness Program, veteran students receive comprehensive support throughout the entirety of their enrollment to reach their career goals.

“I met with a career counselor and used several resources at the Career Center, including resume writing, career fairs, career advice, access to jobs and internships, interview practice, and even getting a professional headshot taken,” said Meghan Ross, an Army veteran pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health science. “I also participate in VA work-study at the office and get real work experience assisting other veterans.”

The FAU College of Business plays another predominant role in promoting veteran success. As a network partner of the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship program, the University takes great pride in its ability to help veterans realize their dreams of becoming business owners. In 2022, the College was ranked No. 21 nationally by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Business Programs for Veterans, as well as No. 58 for Best Online MBA Programs for Veterans. Given that many veterans, service members and dependents require flexibility in their educational pursuits, FAU’s acclaimed online offerings provide manageable pathways that increase their prospects for success.

In recent years, researchers have further explored the importance of on-campus veteran programs, and many have affirmed the need for distinct initiatives that cater to the service member community. Fortunately, there are many ways for universities to help veteran students adapt and thrive. At FAU, these strategies take several shapes, from the aforementioned offices and programs to the critical investigations of treatment methods for service-connected conditions, which is another crucial component for addressing the needs of veterans.

Researchers in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing are working on numerous military-related health initiatives that seek to positively influence outcomes for both individuals and the overarching systems of care for our nation’s military population. Cheryl Krause-Parello, Ph.D., a professor and interim associate dean for nursing, research and scholarship and member of the Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, is working to advance existing research related to mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) affecting veterans and their families. In 2022, her project received a $250,000 award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to continue creating a veteran-centered TBI roadmap that eliminates “one-size-fits-all” approaches and ensures optimal health outcomes.

“Veteran students are involved in a lot of our projects,” Krause-Parello said. “In fact, all our projects are open to veteran students, alumni, or faculty and staff who are veterans. We also have online studies in which any veteran in the country can participate.”

In addition to these core projects, the work stemming from the Lynn College of Nursing connects with broader efforts led by the Veterans’ Action League (VAL) to improve veteran health care on a national scale. Since 2017, FAU and the VAL have been hosting critical think-tank sessions designed to engage key stakeholders including veterans, military members, social workers, doctors and other experts. Through this collaboration, vital health projects are making a tremendous difference in the lives of veterans, such as with the development of an interactive toolkit that allows users to identify available health resources in their area.

One of the most successful initiatives associated with the FAU/VAL partnership is the Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (C-P.A.W.W.®) program. The primary mission of C-P.A.W.W. is to comprehensively advance interdisciplinary research, education and practice protocols for wounded warriors and veterans through the development of evidence-based and restorative interventions — particularly those involving canine assistance.

“Our end goal is to keep veterans healthy and engaged,” said Krause-Parello. “C-P.A.W.W.’s research is showing that veterans and active duty military are experiencing stress reduction when interacting with a canine, whether it’s a service dog, a companion animal or personal pet.”

Another component of C-P.A.W.W. is the FAU Veteran Canine Rescue Mission, which matches veteran students and alumni with dogs from the Humane Society of Broward County. The dogs receive professional training from Happy With Dogs to prepare them for placement as service, emotional support or companion animals. The program includes an additional research component on the human-canine bond, advancing our understanding of how canines can improve the cognitive and psychological wellbeing of people living with post-traumatic stress disorder. The first FAU student to participate in the program, 26-year-old Marine Corps veteran Lenny Polidor, was matched with a 3-month-old American Bulldog-Labrador mix in March. He described the match as “love at first sight” and the pair immediately bonded through the adoption and training processes.

Above all, the common thread throughout each FAU initiative for veterans is an emphasis on holistic achievement. Whether a student is looking to establish their own business or improve their wellbeing with a canine companion, the University prides itself on offering meaningful and impactful ways for veterans to succeed beyond their service. As the South Florida veteran community continues to grow, FAU will continue to provide our nation’s heroes with the best available resources to help them advance to the next phase of their careers and lives.

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