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Many veterans choose to go to university after being demobilized. At Southwest Minnesota State University, they are welcomed into a welcoming environment at the Veterans Resource Center.
The Center is somewhat of a refuge for those veterans, who tend to use military acronyms, have their own “Tongue” and a unique sense of humor. They share common experiences that are foreign to the majority of students.
Justin Guggisberg is the Higher Education, Benefits and Resources Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. The Wabasso native is a 20 year veteran of the Air Force and is in his 11th year on the SMSU campus, where he finds great satisfaction in helping veterans and active duty military personnel wishing to continue their studies at the university.
“I actually started school here in 2009, and was finishing my degree in administration of justice and social work. I was a work-study student for Pat Ebner, and when she passed away all the work-study students had applied for her position and I was fortunate enough to get it.
RJ Hogrefe is from Holloway and has been a four-year Marine Corps veteran where he was a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist. The non-traditional student decided to return to college to complete his history degree, which he started in the Marine Corps.
Guggisberg and Hogrefe both reflected on the benefits that the Veterans Resource Center brings to them individually. The Center helps veterans, of course, but also their dependents.
“We also help the families of our veterans”, said Guggisberg.
There are so many perks available, and Guggisberg makes sure to answer all questions.
Hogrefe said the transition from military to university life was a real change.
“Going to college after serving has been a huge culture change. Going from a very structured lifestyle to a very relaxed atmosphere was difficult. Making the transition to the real world is difficult, so being able to have a place where I can speak with our military acronyms makes me feel a lot better in college ”, Hogrefe said.
He reiterated that the Veterans Resource Center is a place he calls home.
“Everyone who comes to this center understands me and I really appreciate that” he said.
Guggisberg and Hogrefe mention some of the awareness activities sponsored by the Veterans Club. Walk Tacos are a popular event, and then the Veterans Club sponsors a 5K / 10K run every Homecoming. They are proactive in raising awareness at the Veterans Resource Center.
“The best part of my job is seeing different groups come forward and making those connections throughout their academic journey”, Guggisberg said, a sentiment shared by Hogrefe.
“I probably would never have spoken to some of the veterans on campus because as military people we are very quiet and stay together. This center is a place where we can just come and talk about our struggles, our achievements and help each other knowing that we are not alone. he said.
Veterans bring an interesting perspective to the college, Hogrefe said.
“They see the lessons as a job; you get paid (by the GI Bill) for it, so they intend to do well in the class. Veterans have a variety of life experiences that will change them forever, so why not incorporate that into the courses they take and share that experience with others? “ he said.
SMSU was ranked third in the country as a Military Friendly School and Military Spouse Institution. It’s a culture that Guggisberg has worked hard to establish and veterans in the region who are considering returning to college can contact him at: [email protected]