“The military is family,” says Army veteran Wolf Whitney. “It’s that sense of being in a group. I’m trying to find a sense of community within civilian life…It’s hard, but it’s doable.”
After a career in the military, Whitney is focusing on her education. She says she’s inspired by the memory of her mother, who was an English teacher and a constant source of encouragement in Wolf’s life. “I’m doing this because I am her legacy, and I want to represent her in the best way I can. So best foot forward.”
Now three semesters into CCV’s design and media studies program, she’s making good on that desire. She’s maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA all along, earning a spot on the President’s List each semester. The sculptor, who manages the GRACE rural arts collaborative in Hardwick, also runs her own business, Wandering Wolf Studio. She hopes to merge her work as an artist with her CCV studies. And in a kind of homage to her mother, and to her military career, she’s also striving to create a sense of family, both within CCV-Morrisville and within the College’s wider community of veteran and military students.
Each semester, CCV serves more than 400 veteran and military-connected students at its twelve academic centers and online. With philanthropic support, the College has been steadily expanding Veterans Services, including through dedicated staff and specialized tutoring, scholarships, and career services. A wealth of flexible options for all adult students, including the opportunity to earn college credits for military experience, help veterans bridge the gap between service and higher education.
One of those dedicated staff members is Veterans Support Coordinator Erik Zetterstrom. As a veteran himself, Zetterstrom believes he can relate to military-connected students on a deeper level. “I think it allows me to understand where our veterans are coming from and gives me a good idea of what their backgrounds are,” he says. Zetterstrom came to Vermont to attend UVM on an ROTC scholarship and went on to serve tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, lead the Army ROTC program at the University of Idaho, and run the Rough Terrain Engineering Company and the 40th Engineer Battalion. All told, he spent close to 24 years as an active-duty Army engineer.
“There’s lots of things that the service teaches us that are good life skills and make veterans marketable,” he says. “I think the challenge that a lot of veterans have is they don’t know how to translate that experience to civilian life.” And it’s not just the transition from military life to civilian life, but also to the world of higher education—which can be difficult to navigate, to say the least. In his newly assumed role, Zetterstrom will offer general support, as well as help with accessing federal financial and other benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. “I’m here to support veterans,” he says. “Making sure veterans know that if I can help advocate for them, I’m happy to do that.”
Wolf Whitney hopes to team up with Zetterstrom to strengthen the network of veteran and military students at CCV. “When you get out of the military you kind of feel like an outsider because you have all of these skills that no one else will ever understand,” she says. “It would be great to have that sense of community, and I think Erik’s pushing us in that direction, which is absolutely fantastic.” Zetterstrom has lots of ideas for this work, including through online meetings and chat rooms, in-person events at CCV academic centers, and leadership opportunities for veteran students. He’s also encouraging Whitney to use art as a means of connection.
“[CCV] is a place where you can have that deep sense of community,” Whitney says. “After you get out [of the military] you lack that, but once you walk in the [CCV] doors there is always someone to greet you, there’s always someone to talk to or find camaraderie with, and that’s the most important thing I think as a veteran, for me at least, is that sense of belonging. CCV does provide that. It’s a sense of home away from home.”