Montclair State University is a place where all students are recognized for their hard work and achievements. No one is left behind in having something unique to offer in the classroom. Military and veteran students are no exception.
The SALUTE Honor Society is a campuswide organization that recognizes the academic achievements of veteran and military students on college campuses across the country. Veterans and military students are often awarded with recognition for not only their academic achievements but also their service to their country and community.
According to Jonathan Gubitosi, a graduate student worker and assistant veteran advisor, there are about 260 veterans on Montclair State’s campus. Eighty percent of these students have been using their G.I. Montgomery Bill benefits that provide educational assistance from the government.
Gubitosi has recently organized the SALUTE Honor Society, which is an orientation program for veterans that would help them adapt to civilian life as well as transition to university and assist them in getting socially involved on campus.
“This is the only honor society in the country that recognizes a student’s military service and their academic achievement,” Gubitosi said.
The honor society was started at Colorado State University. Now the program has local headquarters across the state in universities such as Monmouth State University, New Jersey City University and Hudson County College.
Kenneth Key is the university’s veteran certifying official. Key helps veterans who are eligible for the G.I. Montgomery Bill.
As a Montclair State alumnus and a veteran himself who served as the national guard in the Air Force, Key considers himself a positive influence on military students.
“No question is too small,” Key said. “Don’t be afraid to apply for different programs.”
Working alongside Key is Retention Specialist Mahfuza Kochi, who is tasked with assisting veteran students to register for classes and helps keep them updated with important information.
Key and Kochi recommend a visual arts workshop course, ARGS 260-13: Veteran Papermaking, for all veterans students. The course creates a feeling of community and belonging among veterans.
“It was a great course,” Key said. “[The veterans] really got the chance to say things they didn’t get to say earlier, and they have really strong camaraderie with each other.”
Key explained why veterans become close friends after taking the course.
“A lot of times, [veterans] don’t get the chance to say what happened when we’re on active duty,” Key said. “[In the course], they share that with each other, and they become really close friends.”
Senior exercise science major and veteran Christopher Feckso was more than willing to share his experiences as a leader and emphasized the invaluable lessons he learned in teamwork and leadership.
“You are the first individual leadership role, so you take whatever you learn beforehand and you kind of apply it to a team,” Feckso said. “You have your group of people, whether it’s one to four or five people at a time. You’re taking them under your wing. You’re teaching them the job. You’re teaching them as a future leader, so you’re giving them your expertise to build them up.”
Feckso believes that serving in the Air Force brought out a sense of community and is a great way to make a person stand out in his or her community when it comes to seeking employment.
When asked if Montclair State was providing him with the resources and tools for success, Feckso agreed that the university’s resources were helping him move in the right direction. He considers Key and Kochi to be resourceful guides in assisting him to adjusting to campus life.
“[Kochi] was my first adviser and helped me out,” Feckso said. “Even as far as the veteran side, but mainly that was Mr. Key. He has all the answers, so anything I needed he was right there. He was someone that if I had a question, I knew he was the guy I was gonna go to.”
William Power, a veteran that served in the army in 1987, agrees that Montclair State is providing him with all the resources to succeed.
“So far, my experiences here have been great,” Power said.
When asked about the strengths that he could bring to the classroom, Power claimed that it was his confidence and his physical experiences while serving that have carried him through.
“[I was] jumping out of helicopters and repelling off buildings,” Power said. “I saw that I could do it.”
Key’s word of advice to incoming students and veterans are the following: Get as involved on campus as possible.
“One of the things that I found out about most vets, they really regret the fact that once they graduated, they didn’t participate in a lot of activities that they should have participated in,” Key said.