PORTAGE — Purdue University in Hammond and Westville is trying to bring students, faculty and other employees who served in the military closer together.
Primarily, it’s about building a stronger support group for making what can be a difficult transition to college easier for veterans, said Anthony Pilota, veteran affairs coordinator at Purdue University Northwest.
Both campuses already do things like provide gathering places for student veterans to study or relax.
The effort moved up a notch Friday night at Bass Pro Shops in Portage where about 40 students and other representatives from the campuses gathered for social hour followed by dinner and presentations.
''This night is an attempt to try and bring them together. It's gone pretty well, so far,'' Pilota said.
Pilota said a tighter knit community would help loneliness and isolation veterans can feel in new surroundings.
Veterans can also share positive experiences that might be of use for others as they adjust, he said.
Pilota, who served in the Marines from 2010 to 2014 and spent time in combat in Afghanistan, said the gathering was modeled after a similar program overseen in his branch of service.
Pilota said veterans in college can have trouble fitting in because they are usually older and have more life experiences and are in a less structured environment than they had in the military.
‘’In the military, you have a daily routine. You know what you’re supposed to do and when you get out you lose that routine. You make your own day. It’s a new experience,’’ Pilota said.
Presently, there are 264 veterans actively enrolled at PNW, he said.
Justin Randolph, 29, of Hebron, will graduate from PNW in December with a bachelor's degree in psychology.
''It brings camaraderie back to the campus for veterans at least,'' said Randolph, a six-year Army veteran also with combat time in the Middle East.
He said another benefit is the networking veterans can do among themselves to help with their careers.
Randolph said it can be difficult for veterans to relate with younger students who often don't realize what they went through or understand the problems associated with their military experience, so it's nice to have a fellow veteran to talk to.
''It's nice to have that peer to peer interaction,'' he said.