For most university students, challenging classes and projects are the most difficult part about earning their degree.
For those who have recently returned from active duty with the military, activities that other students take for granted can be next to impossible.
Military education is focused on giving direct orders and answers to questions, rather than examining topics through the Socratic method, said Akili Shakur, From Boots to Books Assistant Director.
“Classes are set up differently in the military,” Shakur said. “You aren’t asked for your opinion. In the university setting, as part of your participation, you need to converse with other students and exchange ideas.”
Shannon Phillips, of Cedar Lake, a former aviation structural mechanic in the Navy, attended Purdue Calumet from 2010 until her graduation in May of this year, with a degree in Political Science.
At first, Phillips said she found it difficult to adjust to this new educational standard.
“In the military, I worked on aircraft, and our mission was search and rescue,” she said. “When I got directions, I had to follow them to a T. When you get to college, it’s a bit more liberal. If a professor says, ‘just write me a paper on whatever’ I need more direction than that.”
But even outside of the required academic work, classrooms can present a special challenge to military veterans.
“We have students who have served in the field who hate to have other people sitting behind them,” Shakur said.
For those students, the From Boots to Books Program at Purdue Calumet is there for veterans who are interested in continuing their education, or who just need a little extra help.
“We try to build a community of trust,” Shakur said.
The academic program provides services such as tutoring, academic advising and monitoring, field experiences and personal and career counseling.
As of 2013, From Boots to Books has serviced more than 200 veterans.
Roy Hamilton, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at Purdue Calumet, said the mission of From Boots to Books is to make Purdue Calumet a military-friendly school.
“Veterans are highly skilled and highly trained individuals, who may have had training in leadership and have also had training that can benefit the campus,” he said. “I see the presence of veterans on campus as a diversity issue. We are culturally diverse, and we are inclusive of everybody who meets the admissions standards.”
Phillips also noted that at first, the social expectations of civilian life could be frustrating.
“Initially, the first year was very difficult for me because I was sitting in classes with kids fresh out of high school speaking about war as if they had been there,” she said.
During the summer of her first year at the university, she befriended a veteran and his wife in class, who told her about From Boots to Books.
“I felt very comfortable in that office, so I started working with Akili in the office and everything went smooth after that,” Phillips said. “Because if I did have to listen to that 18-year-old kid, I could go back to the office and talk it out with someone who understood where I was coming from.”
Phillips said her involvement with From Boots to Books helped her bridge the social gap between military personnel and returning to civilian life.
“It was a comfort zone,” Phillips said.
In addition to serving Purdue Calumet veterans and students, From Boots to Books hosts the Northwest Indiana Stand Down, an annual event dedicated to provide resources to all veterans, enlisted service members, spouses and family in the area.
The second annual event will take place on August 9-10 at the Indiana National Guard Limited Army Aviation Support Facility in Gary.
According to Shakur, the Stand Down event is organized for local veterans in an effort to “bridge the wars.”
“We don’t want to make any one war stand out any more than the next,” Shakur said.
The first day of the event will be focused on professional services, featuring legal, educational and employment services, as well as counseling and resume help.
Shakur notes that all employers at the event will be currently hiring, not filing resumes for later.
“One of the requirements for the employers is that they have to tell how many positions are open,” Shakur said. “After the event, they have to report how many they interviewed, how many were placed, and give feedback on the interviews.”
The second day of the event will be focused on personal services, such as medical, housing, food, clothing and personal care.
Phillips also volunteered at last year’s Northwest Indiana Stand Down.
“It’s really amazing to see even the few services we had there and how they’re being utilized,” Phillips said. “This year they will have more services that I think will be really great as far as getting certain VA programs and other military programs.”
Some veterans who attend the Stand Down are experiencing situational difficulties and need immediate help.
“I know there was at least one female vet we had who was homeless,” Phillips said. “We were able to set her up with services we had there and set her up with housing.”
“It’s so gratifying being able to help another veteran.”