October 2021

As Veterans Day approaches, we decided to check in with a few Minnesota private colleges and universities to see how each is helping veterans and their families meet their educational goals.

The College of St. Scholastica

Jack Lee is willing to help student veterans with just about anything. The College of St. Scholastica graduate goes on walks, offers writing tips, reviews self-care plans and is just there for those who served their country. Any time of the day or night.

“My office phone is my cellphone,” he said. “Everyone knows they can call me at 2 o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t matter.”

Lee, a former U.S. Coast Guard member, earned a master’s degree in social work at the college in 2019, just two years after receiving his bachelor’s degree. Now he works as a St. Scholastica veterans liaison, an adjunct professor and is a part of a new effort designed to help veterans in studying social work.

Modeled on an earlier effort aimed at nursing students, Lee leads an integrated lab for veterans studying social work, discusses academic success strategies and encourages students to write in American Psychological Association style, not military style. Lee loves seeing veterans thrive.

“Veterans are driven,” he said. “They have a lot grit.”

Lee served in the Coast Guard during Able Vigil, a 1994 operation responding to a pair of mass migrations from Haiti and Cuba. At one point, he witnessed tens of thousands of Haitians fleeing on makeshift boats, hoping to escape poverty. After leaving the Coast Guard, Lee enrolled in college but didn’t succeed. He just wasn’t ready.

“I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and didn’t treat it adequately,” he said.

Which is one big reason he takes the time to review self-care plans of veterans studying at St. Scholastica. “This is going to save your life,” Lee tells them. “And it will help you day-to-day.”

Jack Lee with service dog Nova (right) and Prince (left)
Jack Lee with service dog Nova (right) and Prince (left)

At St. Scholastica, Lee specializes in animal-assisted therapy, which is why a 120-lb. Newfoundland named Nova follows him pretty much everywhere. During a Zoom interview, Nova snoozed near Lee, her black fur blending in with the dark sofa. Just about everybody seem to enjoy the dog, including those who have suffered trauma.

“It works,” he said.

Bethel University

Dawn Schuette, assistant director of Military and Veteran Services at Bethel University, loves the grit and resilience of military veterans — and their families.

Schuette’s husband Jason served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 24 years. During his career as an officer, the Minnesota couple lived in California, Mississippi, Washington, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The Corps also sent him overseas seven times. Every move required tenacity.

“Military wives are tough,” she said. “They just get it done.”

In 2014, Schuette’s husband retired from the Corps. The couple returned to Minnesota with their two children, but Schuette missed connecting with veterans and military families. She applied at Bethel for a job serving veterans and found that it was just the right fit.

“My goal is to find all the military people and connect them,” she said. “I want our military-affiliated students to be treated with care and respect. I strive to make our office a one-stop shop where they can get the help and support they need to successfully navigate their Bethel experience.”

Schuette has also delivered in bigger ways. When she heard that third-year student Philip Norris, a U.S. Army veteran, was receiving just $1,800 a month in education benefits to study nursing and psychology, she investigated. After digging into Veterans Affairs (VA) minutiae, she believed Norris should be receiving tuition valued at more than $40,000 per year, a $1,700 monthly housing stipend and $1,000 for books. But at the time, Norris’ VA benefits amounted to just $1,800 per month. She appealed; the VA ruled in Norris’ favor.

“It was my first and biggest success story,” she said.

Grace Burkholder
Grace Burkholder

Another unusual case involved assisting Grace Burkholder, the 17-year-old daughter of a U.S. Navy captain. A high school student, Burkholder wanted to use Minnesota’s postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) program to study at Bethel, but her parents lived in the Washington, D.C. area. Under Minnesota law, students must live in the state and be enrolled at a local high school to take advantage of free college tuition.

Schuette helped make the case that Burkholder’s parents were legal residents of Minnesota assigned by the military to the D.C. area. After dozens of phone calls and emails, the state agreed Burkholder qualified for PSEO. These days, Burkholder takes courses at Bethel and an online high school while living in a dorm on campus.

Burkholder plans to return to Bethel for the 2022-23 academic year and begin using VA funds dedicated to the children of veterans to pay a portion of her tuition costs.

Concordia University, St. Paul

Deyvon Long
Deyvon Long

Deyvon Long feels at home at the Veterans Resource Center on the Concordia University, St. Paul campus. Under a camouflage banner declaring “Thank You CSP Veterans,” the Wisconsin National Guard veteran fired up his laptop and started talking.

“It’s inclusive here,” Long said. “People pop in and out two, three or four times a day, doing homework. There’s a TV, but it’s never on. We’re too busy talking.”

A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Long served in the Guard for eight years as a 92Y unit supply specialist. Now a junior at Concordia, he is working towards a degree in elementary education. His goal: a career as a preschool teacher.

“Kids are our future,” he said. “As a society, we need to equip them to be great citizens.”

When he’s not studying, Long helps out at Discovery Club, a St. Paul Public Schools after-school program. He enjoys teaching kids new skills, then watching them show off a bit, saying to him, “I remember this, Mr. Long!”

Long smiles when he tells this story. “It’s beautiful,” he said.

On the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, Concordia veterans and their supporters conducted a chapel service to remember those who died. Also in the works: A Ninja Warrior course is in the works so veterans can stay motivated to stay in shape.

The Veterans Recourse Center is named for General John W. Vessey, Jr., a Minneapolis native and lifelong Lutheran who served in the U.S. Army for 46 years, saw action during World War II, Korea War, and Vietnam War and was chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Reagan administration.

There’s a formal plaque honoring Vessey at the Veterans Resource Center, but lots of informal stuff too. The staff of the university bookstore created a handmade, red-white-and blue poster wishing students a “Happy Veterans Day,” and a whiteboard welcomes vets of all branches, along with a reminder that a state Department of Veterans Affairs staffer will pop in on the second Wednesday of the month.

“This is our own space,” Long said. “There’s a sense of community within our community here.”

Kandie Wohlers, a veteran who served six years in the Minnesota Army National Guard, agrees. She popped in between classes on a recent afternoon.

“I stop here pretty much every day,” she said. “It feels like a space I belong to.”

By Todd Melby