Many students trying to get into graduate school use writing samples from classes or academic journals in their applications.
For veterans, it’s a little different.
“I can’t exactly use my writing samples in my admissions packet because they’re classified top secret,” said veteran Gabriel Maravelas.
Maravelas was denied admission to the University of Minnesota’s sociology graduate program.
Some state legislators are requesting the University give greater preference to veterans in graduate school admissions to reward them for serving and help them integrate quickly back into civilian life.
Maravelas inspired the bill and testified Tuesday at a committee hearing for it.
The bill, authored by Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, mandates graduate schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system take past military service into consideration in admissions.
Because of the University’s autonomy, Fischbach can only request the school do the same.
The bill was heard in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday.
Maravelas said it was difficult to describe his qualifications and military experiences in his graduate school application.
For instance, while traditional students may have written for academic journals as undergraduates, Maravelas didn’t have the same opportunity.
Currently, there are no veteran preference policies in place for undergraduate or graduate admissions at the University.
Genetics, cell biology and development senior Joseph Thompson, the public affairs officer of the Student Veterans Association, said the student-run group would be supportive of the University adopting such a policy.
“We would really like to see the student veteran population grow,” he said. “[A formal policy] seems like a step in the right direction.”
An identical version of Fischbach’s bill is moving through the House at the same time.
Rep. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, authored the bill in the House. Howe, a veteran himself, said he believes veterans make a valuable addition to society.
“They’ve been given a lot of training, they’ve been given a lot of opportunities, and we need to provide them the opportunity to continue to serve in other capacities in our society,” he said.
It can be difficult for veterans to transition back to civilian customs, including taking standardized tests.
Maravelas said he took his Graduate Record Examinations just three weeks after he returned from Afghanistan in 2011.
“I don’t think every veteran has natural test-taking ability like that,” Maravelas said. “A lot of people want several months to study for the GRE.”
Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, who co-authored the House bill, said admission into higher education institutions can be difficult for veterans who have been out of traditional academic settings for some time.
“Those placement tests can be a challenge when you aren’t used to studying like that just yet,” Newton said. “We need to recognize the knowledge and unique experiences these veteran students can extend to other students.”
There are currently no plans to adopt a veteran preference policy, said Dean Tsantir, the University’s director of graduate school admissions.
“I haven’t been a part of any meetings where [a formal policy] has been brought up,” he said.
However, Tsantir stressed that veteran status is seen as a positive addition to a graduate school candidate’s application.
“Overall, I can’t see why it would be a negative attribute,” he said. “All of our programs would tell you that we’re very interested in attracting and retaining a diverse student body at the grad level and undergrad.”
Carlson School of Management, on the other hand, has recently started recruiting veterans to be a part of their Masters of Business Administration program, as part of an initiative called “Changing Stripes.”
Carlson Dean Sri Zaheer explained the rationale behind the initiative launch in her speech at McNamara Alumni Center in February.
“Our military veterans possess tremendous leadership skills that can be an asset to any organization — what they often lack is corporate experience and the language of business,” she said.
Luke Tajima, biochemistry senior and president of the SVA, said veterans bring qualities unique to servicemen.
“There are some traits that service instills in you: duty, honor, commitment, courage,” he said. “Those things play into the daily lives of veterans, whether they want them to or not.”
The SVA has a room in Johnson Hall where student veterans can go during the day and relax or study. Tajima said their community on campus is very close.
“We’re generally a pretty quiet group,” he said. “That’s the culture of the military. There’s teamwork and a hierarchy, and you don’t want to be the one sticking out.”
Jennifer Peterson manages University Veterans Services, which serves more than 700 students each semester. The office helps student veterans register for their federal benefits.
Aside from receiving benefit payments from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, student veterans are much like their traditional counterparts, Peterson said.
“Most veteran students are considered non-traditional because they’re often between the ages of 22 and 26 and have families at home,” Peterson said. “But in the end, the veteran population is not that different from regular students.”
Both Fischbach and Howe are confident that the veteran bill will move forward.
“People have a lot of positive support for our veterans,” Fischbach said after the hearing. “There should be enough bipartisan support for this to move on.”