The MVRC – a place to connect
How UNF serves its military students
Air Force veteran Ozea Brown didn’t know
anyone at UNF. As an older student living on campus, Brown attended classes and
often sat in the courtyard at lunch feeling somewhat out of place.
That all changed when she walked through the
door of UNF’s Military and Veterans Resource Center on campus.
Looking back on
her first visit to the Center, Brown, ’16, will tell you that what she found
was more than an office
— it was a portal to the University and other students.
“The MVRC opened a door that helped me connect with the school,” Brown said.
“As a result, I feel much more like an Osprey, and I have met many people
through the Center and made some fantastic friends.”
With no formal class on how to transition from
to college life, Brown found it helpful to talk with other veterans
and get advice. Her involvement with the Center also made her aware of funding
for study abroad. In addition to
a University scholarship, Brown was selected
as a recipient
of a scholarship from MVRC donor Michael Ward, who has donated
generously to veterans at UNF.
“It was a really wonderful experience,” said
Brown, a nursing student. “We traveled to Austria, toured a hospital and
learned about the healthcare system and the role of nurses there, as well as
connected with students from an area university.”
Brown began as a work-study employee at the
Center in the spring of 2016. In January 2017, the Center moved to its new
location in Founders Hall. Brown believes the move is a reflection of all the
great things that were happening in the Center. “This location is more
centralized, so it attracts more visitors and the added space provides room for
Brown, who already earned a bachelor’s degree
in sociology at UNF, is getting ready to graduate in December with a second
undergraduate degree in nursing. As she talked about nearing the end, Brown
said she’s thankful for the people she’s met and the professional connections
she’s made along the way.
“I’m so glad the Center was here for me,”
Helping students pursue
While on his first tour in Iraq, former Army Ranger
Dougherty stepped on a land mine. He did not lose
his leg, but his injuries
required a full knee replacement and months of rehabilitative surgery. As he
recovered in a hospital bed in Germany, he thought about someday leaving the
Army and going to college to learn how to design prosthetics.
As his tours continued, Dougherty witnessed
more injury around him. After more than eight years of service, he can count
nearly a dozen of the men he served with who now live with prosthetic limbs.
“Throughout my military career, I often
thought about learning how to design prosthetics,” Dougherty said. “So now that
I’m out, I decided to study mechanical engineering at UNF.”
At 31, Dougherty is using the GI Bill to
realize his passion. Navigating the complex financial aid was what first
brought him to the MVRC, a place he still frequents with questions. He said he
owes a great deal of thanks to Diane Stover, the Center’s coordinator for
outreach and recruitment. “I was trying to figure out the GI Bill on my own,”
Dougherty said. “What I had been trying to work through for about three weeks,
Diane accomplished in maybe 45 minutes. If she’s got to make 50 phone calls,
she will do that.”
Stover said she and the other staff at the
MVRC work with anyone with military affiliation, whether active duty, veterans,
retired military or dependents, as well as those in the Reserves or the Guard.
“A big part of what we do is help students
like Corey with financial aid,” Stover said. “The GI Bill is complicated and
something that is difficult to work through without assistance. We know this is
a lifeline for many of our students, so we help in any way we can.”
Dougherty said he didn’t know that colleges
had veteran centers. “When I came to UNF, I was greeted with open arms, and
everyone tried to help me to the best of their abilities,” he said.
Dougherty said he relies on the Center as a
place to get information on classes and occasionally as a place to use the
computers or simply retreat from the heat. “For me, they’ve been extremely
helpful when I have questions about financial aid,” Dougherty said. “I can just
walk into the Center and get the help I need.”
Bringing people together
Jaime Plym arrived at UNF at the age of 28 after five years of
service in the Navy. Though she hadn’t been in school
for some time, she felt
confident about the transition. After all, Plym had worked as a master helmsman
and had been responsible for steering the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the largest
aircraft carriers in the world.
Much like the movie portrayals, Plym and the navigation team
worked on the bridge at the top of the vessel — surrounded by a computer
system, large windows and a view of the ocean — as they navigated the
multi-billion dollar ship in many tight maneuvering situations, such as busy
shipping channels or at-sea dockings with other vessels.
Yet despite her level of military achievement, Plym found
navigating the college system much more frustrating and difficult than wielding
an aircraft carrier.
“The difficulty in transitioning was finding services and help
for a nontraditional student,” Plym said. “Many people treated me like I was
an 18-year-old who was still getting help from my parents, which I was not, so
that was very frustrating. The MVRC was my saving grace.”
On the first day of classes, Plym met another
Navy veteran in a biology lab, who suggested they go to the MVRC after class.
Plym is still grateful for the introduction to the Center. “I felt like I found
somewhere I could go if I had a problem,” she said. “It’s just a comfortable
place for me. It’s wonderful to know that there’s a center on campus that
brings people together who are dealing with the same issues you are.” Like
Brown, Plym also began working at the Center as a student assistant.
Now, years later, Plym, ’17, is a proud UNF
alumna, who completed a degree in coastal marine biology. Along the way, she
was a standout student. In 2015-16, Plym was recognized as the Military Veteran
Student of the Year, selected for her academic achievement, leadership and
Not only did the Center make her college life
easier, Plym said she doesn’t think she would have survived without it. “There
were many times that I wanted to give up, and if it weren’t for the people here
I probably would have,” Plym said. “There are times you just need your peers
and friends — people who understand — who will listen and let you vent. Without
the Center, I probably wouldn’t have made it through.”
Piloting the center
After 30 years spent piloting jets and handling assignments
around the world, retired Navy Captain Bob Buehn can relate to stories of
combat, deployment and sacrifice. And though his own military service may have
ended, Buehn, as the new director of the MVRC, believes he has found the
perfect spot to continue his commitment to helping veterans and military
“We see our role as championing success for all the military students
we serve,” Buehn said. “If we’re doing it right, we’re taking care of them from
the beginning of the admission process all the way through until they have a
degree in hand and find a civilian job. That’s really what we try to do here.”
The University established the MVRC in 2009 to serve as an entry
point for veterans and their families as they navigate the civilian and
academic worlds. Since then, UNF has been named one of the most military
friendly schools in the country for eight consecutive years by Victory Media,
which honors education institutions doing the most to “serve America’s service
members and veteran students.” Of roughly 16,000 students at UNF, approximately
8 percent or 1,300 are military affiliated.
Buehn began working at the Center nearly two years ago
administering scholarships in a position funded by a Michael Ward Foundation
grant. In July, he stepped in as director after Ray Wikstrom retired.
“Everyone here is very welcoming, and we work to make the
college transition easier or simply to help in any way we can,” Buehn said.
“What makes us happiest is to meet someone who’s now a part of the community
with a good job who says that one of the things that made it all possible was
the Military and Veterans Resource Center at UNF. That’s what we strive for.”