Veteran finds that getting student aid isn't always a two-way street
Veterans on OU's Norman campus:
Fall 2011-Spring 2013:
More than 800 students used GI Bill benefits to help pay for their education.
Approximately 550 students were serving active duty, reservists or veterans when they used their benefits.
About 300 were dependents of veterans using benefits.
Source: OU Veterans Student Services
Roland Sevigny left college before he completed his freshman year. His grades weren’t suffering. He didn’t miss home. He left because he had enlisted in the Army while he was in high school, and in 2004, during his freshman year in college, he was deployed to Iraq.
He spent a year in active duty there. As an engineer in the Army, he served in a unit of plumbers, electricians and masons near the Syrian border.
Now Sevigny is back in school with a year’s worth of experience under his belt that many students can’t even imagine and level-headedness one can only get after spending a year in combat. The newfound patience helps him now, as he tries to navigate OU’s campus, a complicated world that he doesn’t yet fully understand.
Sevigny made the move to OU after working as a plumber for a short time, but ultimately getting laid off due to the economy, he said.
“It was just the economy,” Sevigny said. “I got cut pretty quick.”
Losing that job made getting by difficult, but it also gave Sevigny the opportunity to think about what he wanted to do with his life.
“I just didn’t want to be a plumber for the rest of my life,” Sevigny said. “I had all that time invested in the military, so I wanted to go back to school and use my benefits.”
Because he had attended college before, he enrolled as a transfer student, Sevigny said. There was no freshmen orientation to sort out all the information about campus, programs and scholarships for him.
“The whole process of it was confusion,” Sevigny said. “I was lost.”
Now an environmental design junior, Sevigny said he’s starting to understand how to access information about programs and scholarships.
“Every time I sit down with somebody, I would say they consider me ignorant when it comes to college,” Sevigny said.
Sevigny said he had trouble finding money to cover the costs of education.
“I was always a semester behind in finding out information about scholarships,” he said.
While most resource services on campus don’t reach out to him until he seeks them, they make a big impact when he does seek their help, Sevigny said.
“The bursars office is amazing,” Sevigny said. “Last Thanksgiving I was going to be behind about $200. I contacted them, told them what happened and asked for an extension… they called back and told me they got me a scholarship to take care of it.”
In his confusion, Sevigny could have easily succumbed to the anger he experienced growing up. He could have become frustrated and maybe even give up on college and joined the work force. However, because of something he learned from being in Iraq, he’s stuck with it.
“What’s the point of getting worked up when you’re not getting shot at?” Sevigny said.
From fall 2011 to the current semester, more than 800 students at the OU Norman campus have used GI Bill benefits to help pay for their education, according to OU Veterans Student Services.
Approximately 550 students were serving active duty, reservists or veterans when they used their benefits, according to OU Veterans Student Service. About 300 were dependents of veterans using benefits.
Veterans Support Alliance is a volunteer group of faculty and staff started in March 2012 to provide support for student veterans and service members, helping them achieve academic excellence and personal success, said Jennifer Trimmer, coordinator for the group.
Trimmer said the group was able to track an additional 300 students that self-identified themselves as veterans attending OU. But those students were not using any GI Bill benefits.
The post-9/11 GI Bill, enacted in 2008, provided more than 555,000 American veterans with federal education benefits in 2011, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Veterans enrolled in public higher education institutions may be eligible for full in-state tuition and fee coverage.
Sevigny said he is only eligible for 60 percent of that benefit because his full benefits require more than three years of active duty. He also gets some stipends, including about $250 for textbooks each semester.
It would be nice to have an organization of student veterans at OU that helps those returning to school adjust, Sevigny said. But student veterans should seek other ways to become involved in the community too.
“Get involved with some type of organization that’s gonna keep you honest and focused on what you’re trying to do here,” Sevigny said.
Sevigny is trying to get involved in a new lighting and design student organization. He said he would also apply for Society of Fellows, an honorary society of students who discuss and debate political and constitutional issues.
Correction: The original version of this story erroneously reported the name of a student veteran. His name is Rowland Sevigny.