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Defender's Den group

Inclusivity, understanding makes JU a top campus for veteran students

Mike Mitchell, director of the Veteran and Military Resource Center, says he wants to “roll out the red carpet” for the 251 veteran and active military students he assists on campus because he’s been in their shoes. 

Mitchell, who is a 2015 and 2019 JU graduate, is the key point of contact for veteran and active military students on campus. His office, along with the resources it provides, are just one reason the university has been ranked on several nationwide lists as a top military-friendly campus.

“I can assist them on that walk because I’ve walked that walk before,” Mitchell said.

Both U.S. News and World Report and Military Times have recognized the university as a top institution for vets and military students.

“We want to make sure they’re treated properly,” he said, adding that Jacksonville University’s small school environment helps those students get the one-on-one assistance they need.

Felicia Parker ‘22 is a psychology major and president of the Student Veterans of America group on campus. She served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years and in the U.S. Army for 17 years.

Parker said that while many schools may be friendly to veterans, she finds JU to be inclusive of them. A prime example of that is the creation of the Defenders’ Den, which opened on campus in 2014 as a spot for veteran and military students to gather and connect. 

The space in the Founder’s Building gives Parker and other students like her a place to “support one another on a level no one else can understand.”

Several veteran faculty members are also able to tap into their experiences to connect with and assist veteran and military students through their time at JU.

Capt. Matthew Tuohy, director of aeronautics, served nearly 27 years in the U.S. Navy. A Jacksonville University graduate, he was also a member of the first NROTC class. 

The Green Zone Training provided to faculty and staff helps familiarize them with the military and understand veteran and military students’ struggles in college. Tuohy said this sets the university apart in how it interacts with those students.

“We realize the value that veteran students bring to the student experience,” he said. “Their life experiences will add to just about every class they take. We respect them and are appreciative for their service.”

As a veteran, Tuohy said he has a unique perspective when working with students with military backgrounds. 

“I always try to recognize our shared experience and help them work their way through what can be the daunting maze of academia,” Tuohy said.

A 33-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, Director of Undergraduate Nursing Programs and Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Catherine Godoy said it’s “essential” for a university to understand the uniqueness of military and veteran students.

JU’s VMRC and Mitchell are incredible assets to the university, she said. 

“Jacksonville University understands this and provides opportunities and support for their veteran community to transition into higher education with a quality military transition program,” she said. “JU takes the time to understand the military education and life experiences the students bring with them and provides resource access for personal, supportive, and career needs.

Like Tuohy, Godoy said as a professor who’s served in the military, she’s better able to guide students who have been through the same thing.

“I can offer an open heart, listening ears, and a solid shoulder to support them when they are in need,” she said. “Most of all, I can let them know that JU has everything they will ever need to thrive, transition, and get to their educational objective.”  

By Katie Garwood