Veteran student talks transition to Rutgers
When he graduated high school in 2002, Matt Solowsky visited Rutgers with his girlfriend and knew it was the school he wanted to attend.
“The problem was I didn’t have the means to go to Rutgers, nor did I have the confidence,” Solowsky said.
Instead, he enlisted in the Navy, serving eight years before returning home to pursue his college degree.
Solowsky, a School of Arts and Sciences senior studying nutrition and psychology, shared his story with members of the Rutgers University Student Assembly yesterday at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus.
He spoke on behalf of RU-SERVS, a student-run veterans support group on campus, helping RUSA members understand veteran concerns as they honored Veterans Day this past week.
Solowsky admitted he was nervous when he first enrolled. While Rutgers did not give as much support to veteran students back then and Solowsky considered attending Monmouth University instead, he had always envisioned himself going to Rutgers.
“Luckily, Rutgers improved their military program, and they offer so much to us veterans,” he said. “Everything we have to worry about, they take that burden so that we can focus on our academics.”
Isolation is one of the biggest challenges of returning to civilian life. At all three Rutgers locations, veteran students make up less than 1 percent of the student population.
“The biggest obstacle that I had when I first came home a couple of years ago was starting all over again,” he said. “When you’re in the military, everything’s structured. You always knew what was going to happen next.”
Coming home means losing the close-knit camaraderie that is characteristic of military life, especially on a college campus where most students have just graduated high school and are at a different place in life, Solowsky added.
“You have a couple choices,” he said. “You get depressed. You decide this isn’t for you and drop out, [or] you start contemplating suicide.”
Veterans often face questions about whether they have killed anyone or what they have done in combat, experiences many of them do not want to relive, Solowsky said.
Another difficult part of transitioning to college life is the post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety many veterans might experience.
If a student wants to reach out and make a veteran feel comfortable, small talk works. Solowsky suggests going up to a veteran in class or on campus, thanking them for their service and starting a light conversation.
“We’re not mean. We’re not intimidating,” he said. “We’re just here to get an education, just like you guys.”
Rutgers offers support in different forms — Solowsky noted veteran students could meet with their deans every Monday without the usual process of scheduling an appointment weeks in advance.
RU-SERVS also works with disabilities programs on campus to help those who might experience panic attacks or other issues during their classes or exams. He said reaching out is especially important, since a huge university with 40,000 students means many people will get lost in the crowd.
At the meeting, RUSA also voted to pass the RUSA Allocations budget of $551,507.01 to 360 student organizations on campus.
Parth Shingala, member-at-large of RUSA Allocations, said RUSA is proud to fund the hundreds of campus organizations.
Shingala, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said the budget would fund two guaranteed events as well as overhead costs for each student group. The main criteria for approval are that the events are open to every Rutgers student and are in line with the group’s mission statement.
Saikiran Chilukamari, auditor at RUSA Allocations, said he and other auditors work closely with the Student Activities Business Office to look at organizations’ spending.
“We try to see what the event spending is actually going towards,” said Chilukamari, a Rutgers Business School junior, giving the example that Allocations would not support supplies such as business cards.
Groups are allowed one appeal per event if their proposal is not initially approved, Chilukamari said.
RUSA passed a second bill written by School of Arts and Sciences junior Brianna Battle in support of the Students against Rape and Assault campaign on campus.
The campaign would require schools to report allegations of sexual assault to law enforcement, post relevant information on its website and provide information to prospective students.