As military veterans arrive on campus, the University of Mississippi—one of only four SEC institutions designated a Purple Heart Campus by the National Military Order of the Purple Heart—welcomes them with resources and assistance.
Created in 2013 and currently supporting 1,300+ student veterans, active members of the military, and their dependents, the Office of Veteran and Military Services recently highlighted a special population of veterans while addressing a common complaint of all students—parking.
“Our Purple Heart Parking Pass allows students, faculty, staff, and retirees who earned a Purple Heart the opportunity to park in any lot within any space on campus,” said Andrew Newby, assistant director of veteran and military services and a US Marine Corps veteran. “We’ve also designated a spot in front of the Lyceum to accommodate visitors who’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of receiving the Purple Heart.”
During a ceremony on the Lyceum steps in April, Don Zielenski, a student veteran majoring in psychology, received the first Purple Heart Parking Pass.
New initiatives are bringing student veterans into leadership roles on campus, integrating them into the community, and offering needed services and resources.
A Veterans Treatment Team, the first in the Southeastern Conference, provides a team-based approach to free healthcare for student veterans, eliminating the need to take time off from class and work to travel to the nearest Veterans Affairs facility.
In the Veterans Writing Group, students share stories, critique poetry and prose, and find a new creative outlet for war and service. “The cathartic experience of writing helps students work through their experiences in service; the group has molded itself into a form of group therapy,” said Newby.
Student Veterans Association
The nonprofit organization works on complex issues surrounding veterans in higher education.
Their My Ole Miss Wish initiative gives military children special experiences in partnership with Charter Road Hospitality and Ole Miss Athletics. For example, Colton Bullock, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was inducted into the Student Veterans Association as an honorary member, took the Walk of Champions through the Grove, and rode to Swayze Field in a fire engine to participate in batting practice with the baseball team and throw the first pitch for the Military Appreciation Game against LSU.
The Veterans Resource Center provides space for study, relaxation, community building, and programs with university representatives and others. Funds for furnishings came from the College of Liberal Arts, Army ROTC Alumni group, a College Alumni Advisory Board member, Coleman Funeral Home, the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, and Oxford’s Volunteer for Veterans.
As the student veteran population on campus grows, the facility is a much-needed resource for students transitioning from the military to college life. “We are extremely grateful the university is working to better our quality of life on campus,” said Evan Ciocci, SVA president and a Navy veteran from Sandwich, Massachusetts. “SVA and Veteran Services support makes Mississippi my home, and I love it here.”
Three College students are among the SVA members who use the Resource Center.
Briana Oderkirk, a history major and Marine Corps veteran, is social media chair for the Student Veterans Association. She plans to attend law school after graduation and to work with veterans throughout her career.
Nicholas Roylance, a theatre major from San Francisco, transferred to UM from Northwest Mississippi Community College and Southwest Tennessee Community College. For him, student veterans “want to fit in, be accepted for what we love, and share it with others. The military is not what Hollywood makes it out to be—the military is a life of hard choices and hard work—but I’m done with that now. I want to focus on my passion.”
“The theatre program provides the tools to further cement myself as Nicholas the actor … not Nicholas the disabled veteran,” said Roylance, who has acted in Punishment! (2016), Blood Country (2017), and Driven (2018). “My goal is to wind up on your TV screen every Friday night at 7 pm.”
Don Zielenski, from south Texas, was stationed in South Korea in 2008 before deploying to Afghanistan in 2011 as an Army Calvary Scout. He was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star Medal with Valor.
“He won’t tell you this, but Don is a hero. He recovered from his injuries and is studying psychology,” Newby said. “He intends to work with veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.”
In return, Zielenski gives a nod to Newby’s leadership with student veterans on campus. “Andrew has helped SVA progress by leaps and bounds in the short time he’s been here. Being part of the SVA helped tremendously my freshman year by giving me a great group of people I could associate with.”
Veteran and Military Services will host a Veterans Alumni Weekend on November 2–3, 2018, with a Veterans Alumni Gala to raise funds for scholarships. It will feature Will Jimeno, the Port Authority police officer who was trapped in World Trade Center rubble for 13 hours and one of only 20 survivors.
To learn more about veteran and military services at the University of Mississippi, visit https://vms.olemiss.edu/.
To support our veterans, contact Andrew Newby, firstname.lastname@example.org.