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In service: Of our country, of our students

January 31, 2011

Throughout its history, CSU has welcomed student veterans. "CSU has had veterans as students the whole time," says Jan Rastall, director of the Adult Learner and Veteran Services office. "Now we're giving them intentional, concerted effort to help with their academic success."

Although the U.S. is still heavily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, many servicemen and women are wrapping up their military duties and heading back to school. CSU has about 500 students who are veterans, and since 2008, the University has been increasing its attention to this population.

A history of military service

Charles Ingersoll, a Civil War veteran and president of State Agricultural College (CSU’s original name), organized the first drill team at the University in 1884, where men worked on basic infantry tactics and maneuvers (Hansen, 63).

According to the Morrill Act, which helped establish land-grant institutions across the U.S., including Colorado Agricultural College, two years of military training was mandatory for physically fit male students. The “basic course” of ROTC – or the Reserve Officers Training Corps – was four hours per week and included fundamental training requirements of field artillery. Students could elect to take the advanced course as juniors and seniors (ROTC information pamphlet, 1932-33).

In 1946, the Air Force ROTC unit was added to the school. In 1962, the mandatory ROTC requirement was dropped.

Welcoming student veterans

Throughout Colorado State’s history, the University has welcomed student veterans. “CSU has had veterans as students the whole time,” says Jan Rastall (B.S. ’79, M.Ed. ’88), director of the Adult Learner and Veteran Services office. “Now we’re giving them intentional, concerted effort to help with their academic success.”

CSU students Alastair Johnson, a British Army veteran, and Joe Beals, veteran of the U.S. Army Airborne, are active in the Adult Learner and Veteran Services community on campus. According to Rastall, veterans, like other nontraditional students, can encounter difficulties when transitioning to an academic life. “It’s not unusual for them to feel anxious about returning to the classroom. Academic skills that typical post-high school students possess might be rusty,” she says.

The Office of Adult Learner and Veteran Services, or ALVS, helps student veterans with that transition by providing several veterans-specific orientation and welcome events, a lounge in the Lory Student Center, and assistance in navigating the University culture.

Through ALVS, students and staff have worked together to create the Colorado chapter of Student Veterans of America,  a group for social networking and community outreach. The group hosted their first 5K fundraiser this year in honor of a fellow student who died after returning from service in the Middle East.

In spring 2009, the ALVS office received an ACE/Wal-Mart Success for Veterans grant to help them found the first national honor society for student veterans. SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society has 25 charter institutional members and 119 individual student-veteran members. The national office is hosted by the AVLS office.

Continuing the success

While the office has had much success in welcoming and retaining our student veterans, Rastall has additional goals:

• Increase the visibility of SALUTE so more student veterans can be recognized for their academic success
• Broaden the support for student veterans through initiatives such as priority registration for students using the GI Bill and prep classes in math and technology
• Strengthen resources for employees who work with student veterans in a classroom
• Enhance the office’s resources, including staffing for outreach and admissions, and building scholarships

Academic programs at CSU

Military Lands

CSU has a long history of working with the military, including Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC, but the University also offers research and educational programs such as the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, or CEMML, in the Warner College of Natural Resources and a new veterans-only section of CO150 (college composition).

Bill DoeBill Doe (Ph.D. ’92) retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1996 after 22 years of service. He spent 13 years at CSU as associate director and senior research scientist for CEMML, associate dean of Research and Engagement for the Warner College of Natural Resources, and director of the online graduate certificate program in Sustainable Military Lands Management, provided through Continuing Education.

“CEMML is one of the largest research centers on campus,” Doe says. “The Center is focused on natural and cultural resources and operates on externally funded grants and contracts from the Department of Defense.”

The Center performs research and training for military and civilian professionals working for the Department of Defense on the more than 30 million acres of land managed by the DOD in the United States.

“These lands are ecologically diverse and many have high densities of threatened and endangered species, as well as cultural sites, which must be protected amidst intense military activities and live firing,” Doe says. “Military installations and training areas are a significant and important part of the American federal landscape.”

College Composition

“First-year composition is an integral class,” says Lisa Langstraat, associate professor of English and CO150 teacher. “While people are deployed, it’s the basic skills that get rusty. Some of the men in my class were writing every day, but the vast majority had not practiced writing to multiple audiences in several years.”

The objectives and standards for the course remained the same for this section as any other section, but Langstraat developed a curriculum that would allow students to write for fellow students and others who would really access and read their work – and also would allow for some personal writing.

“Non-traditional students need real audiences. The more real to life their learning experiences, the more successful they’ll be,” Langstraat says.

And in the first writing assignment, Langstraat learned a few things about these students. “Half the students thought writing about veterans’ issues in transitioning to the university was brilliant. The other half didn’t. They were not interested in being identified as a vet. For some of them, writing about something else was the best thing for them to do as they were transitioning,” she says.

Langstraat also learned of some of the frustrations many veterans face when returning to civilian life. “Nothing angered them more than the stereotype of the damaged veteran returning from war, incapable of fitting in,” she says. “Certainly some of these servicemen were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. While these are serious conditions that demand treatment, the ongoing stereotype of the vet who could explode at any time is frustrating and counter-productive.”

Ultimately, the class was a success, according to Langstraat. “Without exception, I saw dramatic improvement in their writing,” she says. She also saw three intangible benefits for students taking the course: the shared experience of military life and of experience in war; helping one another transition from an organized, disciplined, active lifestyle to a quiet, critical classroom; and comradeship.

“Part of the military dynamic is being surrounded by your comrades and fellow soldiers. Especially if students have seen combat, it’s important they have someone to talk about it with,” she says.

Note: After grades were turned in, the class presented Langstraat with a plaque inscribed with seals from their branches of service, which reads, “Death Before Grammatical Dishonor,” a tribute to her dedication to the class.

Student-veteran stories

Irene Chaves Irene Chaves is a 28-year-old sophomore at CSU double majoring in marketing and computer information systems. She moved from Costa Rica to North Carolina in 1999, and after high school graduation, she joined the Army National Guard.

“I saw my friend’s brother who was in the Guard waking up early, doing community service and relief work, and I thought it looked interesting,” she says.

While serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year, she started studying civil engineering. Three years into her service, her unit was called to Iraq. She served overseas for a year doing carpentry and masonry work, building operation centers, barracks, and traffic control points. Not only did she survive Iraq, she also earned her United States citizenship while stationed overseas.

Upon returning from Iraq, she stayed on active duty as a full-time soldier to train others. She finished her time with the Guard in September 2010.

Chaves is a staff member at ALVS where she answers other student veterans’ questions, has helped build a student database, is secretary for the Student Veterans of America, and sits on the advisory committee.

“I thought once I was out of the Army, I would stop talking about it, but it’s part of who I am,” she says. “I learned leadership skills, that integrity is the most important thing, and to enjoy life for what it is.”

Chaves is focused on the future and ultimately wants to work for a company on business improvement processes. “Life is yours to make,” she says.

Rain Coleman is a 33-year-old junior majoring in English education. He spent ten years in the Air Force as a munitions journeyman, an “AMMO,” before leaving the service in 2005. His brother graduated from CSU years ago and the two would regularly attend the CSU vs. CU football game.

“We were at the game and my brother suggested I use my GI bill to go to school,” he says.

After a year and a half at Front Range Community College, Coleman transferred to CSU. He was the teaching assistant for the veterans-only section of CO150 held in Fall 2010.

“There’s an automatic camaraderie,” he says. “The guys just gelled. It was comfortable and people could be themselves,” which included sharing tough stories and the experience of leaving military life.

It took Coleman some time to embrace being a vet. “Veterans want to fit in to the university and make friends,” he says, which leads some of them to disassociate with their past. “But you’re torn between wanting to fit in and being yourself and valuing your experience.”

Coleman was “in the desert” twice: he went to Saudi Arabia in 1997 and again in 2002, and he also was sent to South Korea in 2003.

He will do his student teaching in Spring 2012 through the Troops to Teachers program, hopefully teaching in a Title I school in Denver. “I want to do something rewarding,” he says.

New starts for veterans


An opportunity for injured veterans comes in the New Start for Injured Veterans program in the Center for Community Partnerships in CSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

Veterans who sustained an injury during active duty can be referred to the center by the Office of Veterans Affairs. Frequently, these men and women are unsuccessful in maintaining employment or participating in post-secondary education. The occupational therapists at CCP help veterans “with serious and life-impacting injuries succeed in college, find employment, and re-enter civilian life with pride and a sense of accomplishment.”

Cathy Schelly (B.S. ’75, M.Ed. ’95) is director of the center. In just a few years, the center has seen more than 30 participants in the New Start program, with ages ranging from early 20s to late 70s. Because the center is community based, not medically based, they refer to people as participants, not as patients. Occupational therapists work with the participants on whatever area is most pressing for them: employment, education, access within the community, or recreation.

“We teach self awareness and self advocacy,” Schelly says.

For instance, therapists may teach a participant how to take the bus, or they may set up an internship with a local business so the participant can determine if that particular career is of interest. Or they may help with de-sensitization, a process to help the participant understand situational triggers and how to ease into a situation without panicking.

Although many of the branches are represented, a majority of the participants are from the Marines and the Army, and they live in southern Wyoming, northern or northeastern Colorado.

As veterans continue to return from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, Schelly expects to continue to see referrals to the New Start program, where she and a team of therapists work to help these service members readjust and gain new skills that help them succeed.


In October 2010, Bill Doe left CSU to become CEO of Veterans Green Jobs in Denver. The mission of Veterans Green Jobs, a nonprofit organization, is “to connect military veterans with meaningful employment opportunities that serve our communities and environment.”

“Unemployment rates for vets tend to be higher, and current vets are facing a dire economy and a higher unemployment rate than the civilian population,” Doe says.

Through a contract with the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado, the organization provides free weatherization to low-income homes in Denver and the San Luis Valley. The weatherization work is done by the veterans.

“We’re trying to promote career pathways for veterans in the green economy. Those pathways are through training and education,” Doe says. “Veterans bring significant technical skills that are directly transferrable to civilian employment: mechanical, vehicle operations, engineering technologies, computer science. They also bring a sense of mission and service, teamwork, and leadership. Most of them are looking to transfer what they’ve learned in military service into the civilian community.”

The Sierra Club and the WalMart Foundation have provided funding to Veterans Green Jobs.

“Many organizations want to help military vets who are interested in sustainability and environmental initiatives,” Doe says.

Resources and Links

Veterans and ROTC Alumni Reception

Please join us for the first Veterans and ROTC Alumni Reception on Mon., Feb. 7, 2011, at the CSU Denver Center. The event is free to attend.

We encourage CSU alumni who were veterans either before or after their time at CSU and any alumni from the ROTC programs to attend. Please bring a friend or family member.

RSVP at Rams5280 or (800) 286-2586 by Feb. 2. Business casual attire.

Evening Program

  • Color Guard Presentation of Flags
  • Welcome: Paul Wolansky, Alumni Association
  • Service Update: Jan Rastall (B.S. ’79, M.Ed. ’88), Adult Learner & Veterans Services
  • University Update: Dr. Tony Frank, President
  • Student Insight
  • Visit with other CSU alumni and friends

In Attendance

  • Col. Mark Gill, Chief of Staff, President's Office
  • Col. Peter Bleich and Lt. Col. Channing Moose, Army ROTC
  • Col. Jennifer Pickett, Maj. Barry Burton and Maj. Jon Mason, Capt. Ryan Kemmerlin, Air Force ROTC
  • Lt. Col. Bill Doe (Ph.D. ’92), Veterans Green Jobs

Works Cited
Hansen, James. Democracy's College in the Centennial State. Fort Collins: Publisher's Press, 1977.

ROTC Information Pamphlet, 1932-33. (Copy at Morgan Library Archives and Special Collections)

Contact: Beth Etter
Phone: 491-6533