Auburn University Named to 2018-2019 Military Friendly® School list

Published: May 21, 2018
Font Size

Article body

As a staff sergeant in the Air Force, Houston native Melissa Villanueva was stationed throughout the world, from Kuwait to Indonesia, serving in communications and later as a medic. These days, Villanueva has shifted her medical focus to helping animals and her location of choice is Auburn University, which recently received national recognition as a Military Friendly School.

“I have taken classes at different campuses throughout my military career, and I can say Auburn has been the best place so far,” Villanueva said. “Auburn’s ranking is high when it comes to military friendliness.”

Villanueva joined the Air Force in August 2005 “because I wasn’t sure about going to college and I wanted to travel away from home.” She was deployed to Abu Dhabi and Kuwait and her initial job was as a satellite communications technician and involved her setting up antennae for communication access for large groups. Six years into her communications role, she had the opportunity to change paths and chose to go into the medical field, working as a medic in both the clinical and inpatient settings.

“My experiences in the field of medicine sparked my interest in animal medicine,” she said, adding that “once my enlistment was at its end I decided I wanted to pursue a degree in animal medicine.”

Enter Auburn and the university’s connection to Villanueva’s love for animals. Villanueva said she always knew she wanted to work with animals and applied to three universities, including Auburn, which she determined is “one of the best schools to study animal science.”

Villanueva was accepted to Auburn in 2016 and quickly learned it also was a top university for military students.

“Auburn’s Veterans Resource Center has been such a blessing to me since I’ve been here,” she said. “The center is a place I can go to and feel comfortable in, whether it be to study, use a computer or even just talk to someone who can relate to the transition from military to civilian life.”

Villanueva said it was no surprise to her that Auburn was recently named to the 2018-2019 Military Friendly School list that will be published in the May issue of G.I. Jobs magazine.

Auburn is one of just 941 schools nationwide to receive the designation, which was based on extensive research using public data sources from more than 8,800 schools nationwide, input from student veterans and responses to a survey of participating institutions. Ratings combine survey scores with the assessment of an institution’s ability to meet thresholds for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment, degree advancement or transfer and loan default rates for all students and, specifically, for student veterans.

Paul “Puck” Esposito, director of the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center and a retired Navy captain, said it’s great to have Auburn listed as a Military Friendly School but his office works hard daily to go even further, providing service above and beyond the standards of such rankings and offering a “holistic approach” for the military clients they serve.

“There’s so much more to it that doesn’t go into that rating that we offer,” he said, adding that everyone on his office’s staff has past military experience or is the spouse of a veteran.

According to a brochure about the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center, or AUVRC, which services a total of 1,100 clients, the center’s mission is to “assist, transition and support veterans, guardsmen, reservists, active duty, military dependents and survivors who receive federal Veteran Affairs educational benefits in all aspects of benefits, both campus and community.”

The Veterans Resource Center offers tutoring services, a student textbook library, an annual veterans golf classic and even a professional clothing locker with dress clothes available to help military students better prepare for interviews or presentations.

“They can come in and pull from the clothing locker and if they need it, they can keep it,” said Meg Ford Alexander ’86, a VA certifying official and outreach coordinator in the Veterans Resource Center.

Alexander said a major part of the center’s appeal is how it reconnects those who have or are currently serving in the military.

“We’re a big family uniting that population,” she said.

Villanueva agrees.

“Along with the AUVRC staff, fellow student veterans have become my family here in Auburn,” Villanueva said. “When I moved here, I did not know anyone from Auburn or even from Alabama at that. The AUVRC staff are so welcoming and create such a great environment to help veterans feel at home. I am so thankful to have them here for support.” 

The center even offers an Auburn Warrior Orientation and Learning, or A.W.O.L., program, which provides a veteran-specific orientation session that helps military students not only find their classes but also such resources as financial aid. The Veterans Resource Center participates, among other programs, with the post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program.

Additionally, military students can follow the AUVRC on Facebook (@Auburnvrc) and can become members of the Auburn Student Veterans Association, or ASVA, which is a chapter of Student Veterans of America, or SVA. The 501(c)3 group represents veterans transitioning from prior military service into higher education.

“Veterans comprise a unique and integral part of the student body within Auburn University, and we aim to help them acclimate to a new culture when they have a very different perspective on life,” said Kyle Venable, president of the Auburn Student Veterans Association. “Our goal is to help student veterans connect with one another on campus for camaraderie, to share information about local community veteran resources and to create a culture within the local community that supports veteran academic success and leads to future employment.”

As for Villanueva, she plans to graduate in December with her bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture, majoring in animal science muscle foods. Her goal is to then earn a master's degree in animal nutrition. In the meantime, Villanueva said she will do all she can to promote Auburn and its Veterans Resource Center.

“The AUVRC staff is caring and makes sure the Auburn student veterans are taken care of,” she said. “There are so many resources and information that can be used there in the center, but also it is a great place of camaraderie.”