Military veterans transitioning from service to collegiate study often face unique barriers. Feeling as though universities, faculty and peers do not recognize the value of skills they learned in the military—and how these skills transfer to a college campus—many may also feel isolated, anxious and/or misunderstood.
Additional factors—including financial burdens, family obligations, expiration of GI Bill Benefits, challenges to wellness, dis/ability and conflict between employment and school—also can contribute to the difficulty veterans may have entering and completing college.
Now, a cross-campus collaboration is looking for student veterans to help study the military-service-to-college transition by participating in VET-SIM, centered around real-world scenarios specifically designed to help student veterans navigate unique challenges they face in this transition.
VET-SIM hinges on two critical learning experiences: simulated one-to-one interactions and a follow-up group debriefing. Each simulation centers around a theme related to veterans’ experiences on college campuses, including interactions with faculty, staff, peers and higher education structures.
After participating in a simulation, student veterans have opportunities to review their own simulation videos and then come together with veteran peers for a group debriefing. Here, veterans talk through their potentially different approaches to the same simulation. Across the VET-SIM model, student veterans engage in multiple simulations with standardized college peers, instructors, staff persons and/or a teaching assistant.
VET-SIM is a collaboration between the School of Education, Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and Office for Veterans and Military Affairs, along with SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Clinical Skills Center. The project began in 2018, but paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that many public health restrictions have lifted, VET-SIM is set to resume in spring 2022.
Professor Benjamin Dotger, chair of the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Leadership, leads VET-SIM. Dotger has been using clinical simulations in educator preparation since 2007 and observes that they are an effective way to prepare pre-service teachers and educational leaders. “Simulations represent deliberate, experiential learning that centers on meaningful problems, situations and contexts, emphasizing knowledge and skills that transfer from preparation to practice,” says Dotger.
While the VET-SIM model is currently in the earlier design stages, Dotger says this project presents a potential “game-changing opportunity for higher education to develop better tools to support student veterans’ transition to campuses across the country.” He adds that the VET-SIM model eventually could be used to teach future professors and student affairs professionals leading practices to support student veteran success in higher education.