As a former U.S. Marine, student Joseph Morel knows it can be a little challenging for veterans to transition from the military to a college campus.
Awarded a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, Morel transferred to Stetson in Fall 2019 as a 30-year-old nontraditional student. He struggled a little to connect socially with younger classmates.
“It wasn’t until I found the veterans organization that I met guys a little bit older and could relate to them more,” said Morel, now president of the group.
An International Business major, Morel transferred from a Palm Beach community college and received a highly competitive Cooke Scholarship, which helps the nation’s best community college students complete their bachelor’s degrees. He plans to graduate from Stetson in Fall 2021.
As president of the student veterans group, he would like to find a meeting space on campus where veteran students can relax and enjoy a safe space. At a Veterans’ Alumni Reunion during Homecoming on Nov. 8, Morel said he heard a lot of support for offering more services for veterans on campus.
“I think there’s a lot of exciting opportunities coming up in the veterans organization,” he said. “Our goal is to promote and advocate on behalf of veterans and really try to raise the retention and recruitment efforts at Stetson.”
The group’s acting advisor, Chris Griffin, is a Double Hatter who served four years in the U.S. Army as a medic and enrolled at Stetson under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. He earned a B.S. in Social Science in 2015 and a MEd in Educational Leadership in 2018.
After working as a high school history teacher for four years, Griffin returned to his alma mater last year, becoming program manager at the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence.
Becoming the group’s advisor has brought Griffin full circle. As an undergraduate, he founded the Student Veterans Organization in 2012 and also served on a university task force that expanded Stetson’s Yellow Ribbon Program for veterans. The program allows veterans, eligible under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, to attend Stetson with no out-of-pocket expenses. The Department of Veterans Affairs and Stetson fully cover the cost of tuition, books, room and board.
Griffin said the Student Veterans Organization would like to continue exploring ways to increase enrollment of veterans at Stetson. He believes they would be attracted, like he was, by Stetson’s small class sizes, one-on-one attention from professors and well-rounded education.
“Stetson is a great place to be a student,” Griffin said. “We want to bring more veterans to our campus and get to the root of how we retain them. They bring a diverse background and a reliable revenue source. That is a winning combination.”
For Morel, he would like to attend Stetson College of Law after he graduates and one day operate businesses that aid veterans, such as partnering with nonprofits to seek better treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“That’s the main goal — to be able to give back and help veterans,” he said.