Columbia's Student Veterans

Published on Oct 21, 2013
The Student Veterans Society meeting. Photo by Tori Shapow.The Student Veterans Society meeting. Photo by Tori Shapow.

“Coming to Columbia brought back parts of me that I felt like I strayed away from,” confides ex-marine Shawn Riley, a senior majoring in public relations. “I have to create things spontaneously; that helped me get back to where I felt like I was before the military.”

Entering college is a rough transition. Entering college after service in the military can be even more challenging. We talk to student veterans at Columbia about their student experience and how they are able to bring a unique voice to campus. 

From Veteran to Student

“The biggest obstacle for me starting school was the age gap,” confides junior film major Eric La Cour. It’s hard to start at 32 and not feel a little out of place. Riley, who also served in the Marine Corps, agrees. “By the time I started school, I was a 24-year-old freshman. I was the old guy in most of my classes.” Being older comes with additional life challenges that many freshman don’t face—marriage, kids, paying for health insurance. “We’re dealing with the obstacles of being to class on time and getting good grades”, says La Cour. “But then, there are bills to pay, too.”

Military Experience Pays Off for Student Vets

On the flipside, the armed services can teach someone a thing or two about responsibility, which makes for a very successful college experience. Matt Patruno, a senior in AEMM, served in the Marines before entering his freshman year. “Being a veteran definitely helped me with all of the group projects we do,” Patruno says. “I’m usually the one taking the lead, organizing everything and making sure everything comes together. It made me detail-oriented and a hard worker.” If you can get up and clean your barracks at 5 a.m., then maybe getting to classes on time isn’t really that rough?

Riley agrees, “Being a college student uses the same practices that we learned in the military, like being on time, being prepared and doing what you’re told.” The hard part is adjusting to being different instead of trying to be just one part of a unit. “Everything is literally uniform,” La Cour explains. “Everyone looks the same and does the same thing in the Marines. Coming to Columbia where everybody has wild and crazy ideas required an adjustment. Columbia draws out that creativity.”

Student Veterans Society 

Like a lot of students at Columbia, these student veterans saw a need to share their experience and created the Student Veterans Society (SVS). It’s an organization founded by veterans for veterans to find support and just hang. “One of the cool things about SVS is that you never think that the guys you spent all your time [in the military] writes music, is a painter or a theatre major,” LaCour says. “You would just never know because everybody looks and dresses the same.” Yep. That’s not going to be an issue at Columbia, which seems to get more diverse and interesting every day.

Come meet some of our student veterans in an event November 11, from 5:00-8:00 pm in the Conaway Center, 1014 S. Wabash, honoring the students, staff and faculty who served our country. Artwork will be on display by the current student veterans along with a reception and remarks from President Kim.