In the fall of 2007, the first day of classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn left Suzette McGraw-Price feeling like she had been whisked back to junior high school, complete with butterflies fluttering in her stomach.
At age 37, not only was McGraw-Price a nontraditional student, she also was a student veteran who spent 12 years in the Army.
“Having to walk through the door was the hardest part,” she said, explaining her fear of not having anything in common with more traditional students. “I sat in the front of the class so I didn’t have to look at everyone. You’re not even thinking that everyone else is feeling the same because it’s their first day of school, too. It was hard to see the similarities between me and the traditional students in the beginning.”
She quickly became involved in campus groups like UM-Dearborn’s Student Outreach and Academic Resources (SOAR) program-which increases access to post-secondary education for non-traditional adult learners experiencing socioeconomic challenges-and the Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) program-which develops the analytical abilities and skills of undergraduate women while promoting their will to be community leaders.
“Those groups exposed me to a lot of different things and gave me something to advocate for,” she said. “It was mind-expanding.”
It was through those groups that McGraw-Price learned about opportunities to raise awareness about student veterans on campus. “Up until that point, I never identified as a veteran on campus. I just never thought about it,” she said.
While out and about on campus, McGraw-Price began to notice students carrying backpacks decorated with digital camouflage–a pattern used by the United States Marine Corps–so she’d stop them and strike up a conversation.
In November 2009, McGraw-Price was approached by University staff about assisting the Veterans Success Team at UM-Dearborn. This is what led her to Student Veterans of America and the founding of a UM-Dearborn chapter. “At first I thought, no way. We’re going to get laughed at,” she said. But as the UM-Dearborn chapter approaches its first anniversary this month, nearly 150 students have been recognized as veterans with the chapter. The organization has held a smattering of events so far, but McGraw-Price hopes the group can work toward establishing a Veterans Resource Center on campus.
“As student veterans, we have so much to offer a university,” she said, noting that veterans come to school disciplined and with tuition in tow thanks to the G.I. Bill which provides financial support for education to those who’ve received an honorable discharge from service. “Having a Veterans Resource Center on campus would help attract other student veterans to UM-Dearborn.”
Off-campus, McGraw-Price spends a lot of her time serving as state director of the Student Veterans of America, a national coalition of student veterans groups on college campuses across the United States. In that role, McGraw-Price reaches out to campuses around the state, helping them start new chapters while providing peer-to-peer networks for other veterans who are attending Michigan schools.
UM-Dearborn’s Student Veterans of America chapter will host a free screening of the documentary Brothers at War on Thursday, Nov. 11 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Room 1072, CASL Building. The group also will be collecting a variety of items to create packages for the 1225 CSB, a Michigan Army National Guard unit, which is based in Detroit and recently deployed to Afghanistan. Donations of films on DVD, books, non-perishable snacks and candy, travel-sized toiletries, etc. will be collected before the screening. For more information contact Suzette McGraw-Price at email@example.com.