Beyond GI Joe bridges gap between students, veterans
George Mason University higher education students chuckle during a Beyond GI Joe class June 22.

The school offers the class through its higher education master's program, in partnership with its office of military services.

Colandra Sealey, AFTB program manager; and Michelle Lake, information and referral program manager, hosted the class and discussed the resources Army Community Service provides to Soldiers and military spouses with the students.

"I think it's important that civilians understand what it's like to be a military spouse and what it's like to live on an installation," Sealey said of why she agreed to host the class.

Lauren Runco, a student in the higher education administration master's program at Mason, started the course. She is also a former military spouse, as her husband recently left the Army.

"When I went back to school, I took an interest in the student-veteran population, because I think it's an unrecognized population on college campuses," Runco said. "With the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you're going to get a swarm of vets coming back and it's going to continue to grow as the war comes to a close, veterans are getting out of the service and moving on to the next phase of their lives."

Runco said one of the course's objectives is for participants to understand the difficulties some former military members face when transitioning back into civilian life. She said it can be particularly difficult going straight into college and dealing with people daily who have no understanding of the military experience.

"My main motivator is my husband. Now that he's a veteran, I'm watching him transition and he's going into the civilian work force. But, when he is ready to go to school, I don't want him to be that older student in the back of the classroom with his head down, not interacting," said Runco. "The stereotypes sometimes in the media affect what people think, so we're trying to break through some of that, as well."

Runco also said it's important that universities understand how well-informed military spouses are of what their spouse is doing while in the military and how that remains important once they are out.

"When you get to college, the Family isn't in-the-know anymore," Runco said. "It's a lot easier to support your spouse going to school, if you can understand what they're doing while they're there."
The class visited Arlington National Cemetery before coming to Belvoir. Runco said she felt it was important for the participants to see firsthand one of the negative results of being involved in combat.

"I wanted our participants to hear the perspective of survivor's guilt," said Runco. "I think it's important to at least understand this is what does happen, so they're not asking them questions that are inappropriate."

Aaron Emery, the transition coordinator in GMU's Office of Military Services and is a former Army staff sergeant. Emery said he was skeptical about what he would get out of the course, being a former military member, but was pleasantly surprised.

He said the most important aspect of the class for him ended up being a presentation from David DiRamio, associate professor in higher education administration at Auburn University.

"He gave a presentation on what universities can do to be more military-friendly," Emery said. "Mason prides itself on it, because we are one of the most military-friendly schools. But, I learned how we can facilitate success for veterans. Not just getting them into school, but how to get them through school."

Runco also hopes to improve Veterans Day activities on GMU's campus.

"Have events on campus and an appreciation day where it's just military appreciation day," Runco said. "Invite active Soldiers and their Families. Let them see George Mason and let them know it's a community that appreciates their service and will support them, even after their military service is done."

Page last updated Fri October 14th, 2011 at 10:57