Veteran leads the way for Flyers
In August, UD hired Sam Surowitz as the first director of Military and Veteran Programs and Services, a new office established to better serve the needs of UD’s veteran and military-affiliated student population and increase recruitment of this diverse group that includes veterans, those currently in service and family members. He brings to UD experience as active duty Army and a leader in the Army Reserve, as well as the National Guard, as well as in higher education. We sat down before Veterans Day to ask him a few questions.
Q: How did you begin your journey in higher education while serving in the military?
A: I started my undergraduate degree online while I was on active duty, then went to a community college before transferring to the University of Connecticut. When I became a student, I felt our student veterans groups needed some leadership, and I wanted to help improve areas that were lacking for my peers. After I got my degree and when I was hired by the office at UConn, I wanted to continue to support that group of students.
Q: How has your experience as a student veteran helped you support student veterans in your previous role and in your current position at UD?
A: There's a very technical challenge for student vets and service members in balancing their non-educational goals and their educational goals. A lot of students had families with children and were non-traditional or older students. Some of them were working and it was challenging. If you’re currently serving, how do you balance your education and your military duty? What do you do if you get called up? I worked with the university and with students to help them navigate those issues and helped shift the university’s policies, particularly towards enhancing veteran and National Guard education benefits.
Q: How common are active duty veterans in higher education?
A: It’s not uncommon for active duty individuals to pursue a degree, but they’ll tend to do it through online colleges where they can take those credits with them as they transfer from duty stations. You might not see that population as much working at a traditional institution of higher education. But even for reserve students, having to go away every summer and one weekend a month — people think that’s all that there is, but everything that you do to prepare for training has to be coordinated ahead of time, so you often pause your education and come back to it. I experienced these things firsthand while I was pursuing my degrees and I used that experience when I had the opportunity to weigh in on policy.
Q: Do veteran students have specific challenges when seeking funding for their college education?
A: Conventional wisdom makes one think that with the GI Bill, you have free school and that’s it. That’s the way it’s presented in a lot of people’s minds. But every veteran might find that what would be best for them financially is different than what it might be for somebody else, so it’s important to have someone able to work with individual students and help them navigate the system. We’d frequently find students who hadn’t done the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] because they thought that with the GI Bill, they didn’t need it. Most of them were Pell Grant-eligible and were leaving Pell Grants on the table that they could have used to pay for other educational expenses, such as housing, food and dependent care.
Q: What else is UD considering to help increase student veteran success?
A: We’re looking at establishing a military and veterans advisory committee of faculty, staff and students who are veterans and student leaders. We can look at general University policies or specific program policies and requirements. This would be separate from the office as an independent committee that can advise and provide recommendations on military and veteran student affairs, along with HR-related University hiring practices and other issues that affect veterans.
Q: Any final words for Veterans Day?
A: The University is home to many student, staff and faculty veterans to whom we wish a happy Veterans Day. Our community also has individuals whose family members who were injured or killed in the line of duty, and we thank them for their families’ sacrifices. A plaque memorializing UD ROTC graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation is on permanent display on the wall in the garden between the Chapel and St. Mary’s.
Members of the University of Dayton community will participate in events on and off campus during Veterans Day 2019, Monday, Nov. 11, to honor veterans and thank them for their service.
A special blessing and remembrance of alumni who died in active service will take place during 12:30 p.m. Mass at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. A reception with light refreshments will take place following the service.
UD ROTC cadets will participate in a run around campus from 6-7 a.m. and distribute coffee and donuts to fellow students near the water fountain outside Kennedy Union from 8-9 a.m. The cadets will also present the colors for the memorial service at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Park on Patterson and Stewart streets at 11 a.m. and sign a proclamation to help to maintain the park.