When Zach Bedford attended his freshman orientation in Fall 2015, he felt out of place among the crowds of “brand-new adults.”
While most other students had just finished high school, Bedford, now 23, spent the previous year serving a nine-month tour in Afghanistan in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
“It’s just a different life and mindset,” said Bedford, a junior biology major. “At least me personally, I felt isolated when I first came here.”
It took Bedford until Fall 2016 — a year after he came to Temple — to discover the Temple Veterans Association, an organization formed in 2010 to offer emotional support and career guidance to veteran students. That same semester, TVA found its first physical home: the newly opened Military and Veterans Service Center on the sixth floor of Conwell Hall.
The Military and Veterans Service Center hosted an informational program Thursday in Morgan Hall to welcome incoming students who were active-duty service members, veterans or the spouses or dependents of service members. The day also marked the one year anniversary of the new space that opened last August.
In November 2016, the space was officially dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served as an army general. The dedication represented the culmination of a six-year effort to better address veteran students’ needs at Temple.
In 2010, Temple established the Veterans Task Force, a group of representatives from different university schools and administrative offices, to develop programs and examine legal policies that affect military and veteran students.
“They have a whole lot of things to deal with, transitioning back not just to college but to civilian life,” said Laura Reddick, the associate director for adult and veteran student recruitment. “At the university, we just wanted to make sure that we did everything that we possibly could within our means to really help the process be smooth for them.”
The university established Reddick’s position in 2010 to accommodate the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The 2008 bill guarantees full tuition for a public four-year undergraduate education to any veteran who has served three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
Reddick was tasked with helping incoming students navigate the new legislation. Having previously advised incoming veteran students for more than two decades in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Reddick said she knew the policy change would boost veteran enrollment.
When Reddick first assumed her new role in Fall 2010, 211 students used GI Bill benefits to attend Temple, according to the University Registrar Bhavesh Bambhrolia. In the following six years, the veteran student population rapidly expanded, with 1,691 students utilizing GI Bill benefits last year.
During that time, Reddick counseled veteran students at the Ambler Campus and TUCC as well as through virtual sessions online. Though the smaller campuses gave her more flexibility to develop new veteran information sessions, she said the lack of a centralized location made it difficult to create a sense of community.
“Once they got assisted, they were pretty much on their own,” Reddick said.
Last August, the center finally became a physical creation, bringing Reddick to Main Campus.
No longer a transient, one-woman office, the new space in Conwell Hall brings veteran students together, Reddick said in her speech during Thursday’s program.
Debbie Campbell, TVA’s faculty adviser and the senior vice dean at the Fox School of Business, said the center is also a hotbed for employer recruitment events.
This year, Campbell said she is establishing 12 “corporate partnerships” for the Military and Veterans Service Center. Participating companies — including Wawa, Aramark and MassMutual — will pay TVA $250 in exchange for hosting recruitment events in the center.
For Bedford, now the vice president of TVA, the Military and Veterans Service Center touches on many different facets of veteran student life. It’s a dedicated club office and employer recruitment hub, but also a hangout spot between classes, he said.
“It’s our spot as veterans,” Bedford said.
“Us veterans coming together, that’s a huge source of support just on our end of what we can do as individual veterans for other veterans,” he added.