FAIRBORN, Ohio (WDTN) — Wright State has been upgraded from bronze to silver in its status as a military-friendly university.

The Military Friendly designation is sponsored by Viqtory Media.

It was also named as a Collegiate Purple Star campus in 2022.

Some of its success is largely due to the Veteran and Military Center on campus supporting student veterans and service members.

“We have minimally about 300 plus veterans on campus,” describes Dr. Seth Gordon, Director of the Veteran and Military Center, which started in 2013.

Zach Collett is one of them.

“I was in the Army way back in 2002 to 2010, active duty at Fort Bragg,” describes Collett.

Medically retired from the military, he struggled with PTSD and pain from a back injury.

“Not exactly knowing what your purpose is on this earth is challenging to say the least,” says the husband and father of four. “I spent ten years trying to figure out where it was that I belonged in this world.”

He found his place in 2022 after enrolling in the fall at Wright State University.

“The VMC is the reason why I’m at Wright State,” admits Collett. “Dr. Gordon is an incredible asset to our community. He is a sponge when it comes to trying to learn the nuances of navigating the veteran community.”

“We want to make sure that we spread out the ability to care for them across the university,” says Gordon. “I’ve been doing this role for ten years. The woman that helped me run it for eight years was a real expert at doing the benefits, and so, we benefitted from her expertise.”

For about the last ten years, the VMC has been helping veterans process their GI bill benefits and transition from the military to college.

“They’re all trained to be selfless, but they don’t necessarily take to care,” says Gordon.

Diamond Smith served in the U.S. Army active duty from 2010 to 2018. Enrolling at Wright State in 2022, she now does community engagement coordinating through the VMC.

“There’s not a lot of veterans here at Wright State, and I am a lot older than a lot of the average students here. So, to know there’s other adults like me that have the same background and may  be going through the same experiences of never being in a college environment before or being out of school for ten years and not feeling like they’re on the same level as everybody else, it’s just a comfortability thing here, and it’s like a sisterhood brother hood thing because we’ve had some type of like experience,” says Smith. “I feel like every challenge I’ve had to face I’ve had help within this facility navigating how to get through those.” 

“I’m really happy with the program. I love it,” states Smith.

In the last decade, the VMC continues to expand the work they do on campus and the reach to veterans and service members, adding the Champion Garden outside.

“It is officially called the Captain Shawn L. English Champion Garden,” says Gordon. “Our vision of the center is to try and create a space where veteran and military connected students feel like they belong.”

As Wright State has been recognized as military-friendly for the last ten years, they continue finding ways to connect with student veterans on campus and serving those who serve.

“There are other people out here just like you. You just got to find them,” says Smith.

Smith will graduate in December 2024 with a degree in organizational leadership and a minor in communications.

“I would just encourage them and my fellow veterans and our student veterans to do what we’ve always done adapt and overcome. It sounds easier said than done, and it’s extremely difficult. But it’s worth the work. Anything you ever dreamed to accomplish is going to be easy compared to what we’ve gone through,” says Collett. “Just remember that you matter.” 

Collett is wrapping up his bachelor’s degree in psychology and will graduate in spring of 2024.

Both Smith and Collett plan on attending grad school.

“We know that students come here and they want to advance their careers,” states Gordon.

Wright State is working on partnering with local businesses and organizations to build pathways to help veterans transition out of the military and into college and out of college and into employment.