Can you tell us about your experience with the military and how that relates to an academic setting?
I have not served in the military. However, I have had the pleasure of teaching and working alongside many veterans in industry, in academia, and in law enforcement. I can confidently say that the veterans I have interacted with at the university brought a high degree of curiosity, interaction, and respect for ideas to the classroom. Overall, I have found that veterans' sense of responsibility to the learning process has been high and it has truly been my pleasure to work with our servicemen and women in the classroom and elsewhere. As the director of Tulane SoPA's applied computing programs, I have also had the pleasure of hiring veterans as faculty, where they have proven to be popular and effective instructors.
What do you notice to be the driving force behind veterans pursuing an education after service?
In my conversations with veterans at Tulane over the years, I've gleaned that military service helped them develop a better understanding of who they are and brought awareness of their capabilities. In these cases, students sought an education that allowed them to provide value around this military-forged, more mature sense of themselves. This personal growth acts as a source of confidence and a motivator for veterans to seek an education that is commensurate with delivering their talents to society.
What are the three most important attributes or characteristics a veteran should consider when selecting a university?
Outside of traditional student considerations around quality, reputation, programs, academics, environment, academic support, amenities, location, and technology, veterans should consider the following institution characteristics specifically related to their experience:
Does the university have significant, dedicated staff to assist veterans? Are there robust counseling and career services available? For example, Tulane University has multiple veteran liaisons and counselors across university schools, and each is completely accessible through the website, through email, and by posted phone number.
Are processes/systems/forms in place that are mature and accessible (online) to navigate the administrative requirements of the G.I. Bill and guide veterans? Does the university participate in relevant veterans' programs, such as Yellow Ribbon Program? Are the program courses offered flexible enough to fit the student veteran's lifestyle?
Does the institution have a long-standing relationship with the military and veterans? This may be highly impactful on the day-to-day experience a veteran will find at the university.
For example, the Tulane ROTC was established in 1947, and it is very much the norm to encounter ROTC personnel throughout the campus in uniform. Additionally, the City of New Orleans and Greater New Orleans area have traditionally been welcoming and “home” to veterans. In fact, 8% of the population of Louisiana are veterans, 79% of those have served in wartime, and 36% have served in the Gulf War era. These type of environments allow the adjustment to University life to be smoother.
Current university program veteran presence:
Does the program the veteran is interested in have instructors who have served? Students should research the faculty who will be teaching them - including reading instructor's bios where posted. For example, the Tulane SoPA Applied Computing Faculty is comprised of a large percentage of veterans and current military leaders. These instructors are uniquely positioned to be mentors and resources for students who are veterans.
Are there a large number of student veterans attending the university and are they fully participatory in university groups, activities and student leadership? Generally, universities that have a large number of veterans enrolled are accustomed to supporting veteran students and meeting their specific needs.
How important is a university's sense of community to veterans when deciding on a college?
A university's sense of community is very important to veterans. Most veterans have been steeped in esprit de corps, and the benefits of accomplishing goals as part of a larger whole. Universities that are able to offer an environment in which veterans are welcomed and encouraged to bring their talents to teams and to the larger community would be a familiar and comfortable environment for veterans. I would encourage veterans to speak to existing military personnel (ROTC, etc.), student veterans, and instructor veterans to make the best choice for their education.
How do financial aid opportunities, such as the GI Bill, influence a veteran or service member's choice to pursue a higher education?
Support through the GI Bill continues to be a critical enabling factor for veterans to pursue their goals. Many new businesses started by veterans since World War II, as well as the many veterans who have risen to the top of their fields, are the direct result of the education enabled by veteran aid. As a result, American's investment in our troops has paid off handsomely for the US by any measure.
Veterans: find a university that will help you map your veteran's benefit to your academic goals with clarity.
What advice would you give students who don't believe they can attend college as a veteran?
I would advise students who do not believe they can attend college as a veteran that perhaps they are looking at the wrong universities or programs for their educational needs and comfort. “Fit” is an important part of succeeding in higher education, and there are meaningful differences between institutions. I would further advise veterans to engage around these differences to ensure they will feel supported, welcomed, and part of something bigger.
For those students who aren't even looking at higher education because they lack the confidence, I would advise them to consider the challenges that they have already overcome, and the responsibilities they have already been entrusted with through service and look again.
I would also remind them that they have proven ability to meet challenges, and personal responsibility and maturity gained from service. Lastly, I would advise veterans that whatever experience they might have had with schooling when they were younger no longer applies, as academics have changed, and so have they.
What advice would you give to a prospective veteran student who is in the first stages of their college search?
Veterans should consider themselves first before selecting a university. Finding the right university and degree program is about more than potential job opportunities and taking courses consistent with training and experience. Ultimately, veterans have learned life lessons far beyond their specific assignments in the military and offer value in ways that are harder to articulate than a job title. I would recommend that a veteran seek out a university program and field that they would want to be reading and writing about at the end of a busy day because it is a passion -- beyond the grade and the degree.
Students should research academic institutions that are fine tuned to meet their core, baseline interests. The challenge then becomes to locate the academic institution in which a veteran can feel comfortable, welcome, and offers the program/course of study that syncs with their passion. For example, Tulane University's SoPA cybersecurity and homeland security programs are particularly popular with veterans. During their service, veterans in these programs have discovered their technical and strategic skills, and they desire to continue service through protection. These programs offer the opportunity to do this alongside veterans and others with similar passions.
What are some of the ways family and friends can support student veterans during their time of transition?
Family and friends are a core part of a veteran's support network. Since family and friends have supported these folks through challenges writ large, their influence on veterans is significant.
Therefore, it is highly likely that veterans would use this support network in their discovery process and will be significantly impacted by their input. In these cases, family and friends could provide help with research (online, phone calls, emails), completing applications and, perhaps most importantly, with assistance in the form of talking things through.
For veterans who prefer to consider things themselves, family and friends could provide basic encouragement, unqualified support of the veteran's chosen direction, and space for a veteran to consider their true passion and its alignment with education.
Finally, family and friends who have not served may have developed personal networks in the community that a military veteran might not have been able to. Family and friends can offer connection to these informal networks for conversations with students, faculty, and staff of universities around education planning.
What are some struggles you see veterans face when transitioning into school? How are they able to overcome them?
Veterans come from a hardline structure that the military provides, where tasks are regimented and closely choreographed to completion. Often, university assignments come with parameters and a due date, but rely on a student's capacity for self-direction and personal motivation to complete. In these cases, this fundamental difference in approach and follow-through creates a significant challenge to veterans.
I have seen veterans overcome these challenges through leveraging of new relationships and resources to keep on track. Ofttimes these could be other veterans enrolled in courses as part of a cohort.
For example, in a course I recently taught, several veterans quickly connected and communicated around assignments and assessments. By reaching out to those in class with a shared background, they formed an impromptu support structure. This structure was extremely effective in finding success in the class though study sessions, discussions around research, and approach to assignments.
For these reasons, finding a university with a long-standing relationship with the military, that has significant number of students and faculty/mentors who are veterans, and has a culture that welcomes veterans of all kinds is important.
Ralph RussoDirector of Tulane University's School of Professional Advancement Cybersecurity Management Program
Ralph Russo is the director of the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement applied computing program, where he is focused on keeping learning delivery and the applied computing curriculum on pace with cutting-edge technology, security, and industry advancement. Mr. Russo also holds the title of professor of practice. He created and delivered the first graduate and undergraduate cybersecurity courses at Tulane in 2011, and has taught in both the homeland security and applied computing programs. Mr. Russo is a nationally-recognized subject matter expert on technology in the homeland security and public safety domains. He has served in director-level leadership positions for technology/systems integration companies for over 15 years. He has also consulted for multiple federal, state, and local jurisdictions to successfully guide the development, deployment, and adoption of IT systems for security and public safety. Mr. Russo retired from the NYPD in 2005. His 20+ year career included leadership positions in a wide array of investigative and field assignments. Of note, Mr. Russo served as the commanding officer of an Organized Crime Control HIDTA Task Force of Local/State/Federal law enforcement. He also served as a commanding officer at NYPD Intelligence RIC/Watch, where he designed, managed, and implemented agency-wide law enforcement and homeland security systems for tracking confidential informants, search warrants and counterterrorism leads - including the NYC Terrorism Hotline (888-NYC-SAFE). As an entrepreneur, he has co-owned two startup technology firms. These small businesses focused on delivering secure solutions to businesses handling personal data, and on creating, marketing, and delivering software for police officers seeking to advance their careers.