During a 10 month tour in Iraq beginning in Summer 2008, young Marine corporal Benjamin Manzano learned a lot about life, and death. After his 4 year enlistment in the USMC was over, he decided to call it quits and give college a try. “I thought it would be easy after what I had just been through,” Manzano said.
In the midst of his first school year, he found himself struggling badly in the transition from Marine to student and had no one to relate to: “I only knew two people when I got here.” Manzano said. Eventually he withdrew from classes.
Three years later, Manzano is a junior in public administration. He is putting his hard times behind him to help better the lives of incoming veterans as a Peer Advisor Leader in a program called Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (P.A.V.E).
P.A.V.E. is a peer support program that connects incoming student veterans with student veterans already on campus to help them navigate college life and ease the transition from the military to academia.
P.A.V.E. originated through the collaboration of efforts by the Student Veterans of America and the University of Michigan Depression Center and Department of Psychiatry. Auburn University is one of five schools chosen to participate
Manzano and other advisors help identify any challenges that student veterans are facing and help locate appropriate resources on or off campus. Counselors, doctors and other resources are available to student veterans through the program.
A key feature of the P.A.V.E. program is the concept of a warm-handoff. “We strive to build personal relationships with other departments on campus,” Manzano said. “Essentially, we don’t want to just give a phone number or a brochure to a vet in need, we want to guarantee they will be taken care of.”
According to the University of Michigan Depression Center, “Universities are seeing a large influx of veterans due to the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. However, most recent data suggest that only 50 percent of these veterans are successful in achieving their educational goals. The average veteran faces at least four to five years between high school and college, compared to the average freshman’s two to three months. Their deployment experiences and older age may also make it more difficult for them to connect with other incoming freshmen.”
Advisors are expected to provide ongoing support to help student veterans meet academic and personal goals. “If the P.A.V.E. program or some equivalent was around when I came to Auburn, I don’t believe I would have had such a rough time,” Manzano said. “Just providing a helping hand and establishing rapport helps veterans transition tremendously.”
P.A.V.E. advisors reach out to their students regularly to check up and ensure necessary assistance is provided. “Our goal is to make sure everything is running smoothly for Auburn student veterans,” Manzano said. "We want Auburn to be a school veterans want to come to."