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CMU student discusses experiences after leaving military service

Former Marine canine handler Sarah Richardson, left, discusses her life at CMU after the military with panel proctor Matt Johnson Nov. 6 in Room 413 at the Charles V. Park Library.

Sarah Richardson, a former Marine, recently returned from serving four years in Japan as a canine handler. 

Richardson has spent just 10 weeks at Central Michigan University and has had a harder time adjusting to the flow of civilian life than she thought she would.

Richardson said the best way for students and professors to support veterans in the classroom is to not make them feel like they are in the spotlight.

“It’s hard to explain what you’ve done to people who don’t have experience in the military or don’t understand it quite as well,” said Richardson. “It’s difficult to talk about your experiences and to bring it to a level where you don’t bring up all of the details, but still make your experience something others can learn from.” 

The Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support’s (OCIS) sixth installment of its Hearing Diverse Voices series in the Park Library on Wednesday, which centered on female military veterans, gave Richardson an opportunity to discuss her experiences as a veteran returning to school. It also helped CMU faculty and administration understand how to help student veterans.

Matt Johnson, an associate of educational leadership and the chair of Multicultural Diversity and Education Counsel, proctored the panel. Johnson said the purpose of the panel is to highlight various sub-populations of underserved students on campus.

“We put a particular emphasis on how we can support these students in the classrooms and try to understand their experiences a little bit better,” he said. 

After returning to "civilian life," Richardson said she feels like sometimes she doesn’t know how to talk to other college students after being out of the civilian mindset for so long.

“(Veterans) are still humans, you know. Getting out and going back to ‘being normal’ isn’t easy," Richardson said. "It’s really difficult when you’re trying to relate to people who are younger than you."

During the panel, Johnson emphasized the support the OCIS staff receives from the Veteran’s Resource Center.

Director for the Veteran’s Resource Center Duane Kleinhardt attended the panel. A major part of Kleinhardt’s job is helping student veterans take full advantage of the G.I. Bill and the benefits it provides.

“Being a veteran myself I know the struggle," said Kleinhardt. "I used the G.I. bill myself years ago to go to school, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I had to get a job and pay for school myself,” 

Kleinhardt said in recent years, the amount of money student veterans received has increased and veterans who attend CMU get their tuition fully covered, a housing stipend that pays for their room and board and a book stipend that lasts a total of 36 months.