Society and Culture Health And Wellness

New provincial funding will help U of A provide a veteran-friendly campus

Two-year pilot project will develop academic, social and mental health supports for veterans pursuing post-secondary education as part of their transition to civilian life.

  • February 04, 2021
  • By Bev Betkowski

A two-year pilot project for a Veteran-Friendly Campus, supported by a $714,000 grant from Alberta Advanced Education, will see the University of Alberta develop an integrated support system on campus to help veterans transition into their student careers by offering academic, social and mental health services specific to their needs, and enable the post-secondary environment to be more responsive to veterans. 

“Becoming a Veteran-Friendly Campus builds on a University of Alberta tradition of making post-secondary education available to veterans that goes all the way back to the Khaki University created by Henry Marshall Tory in the First World War,” said U of A president and vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan. “Thanks to this program with support from the Government of Alberta, we are again playing a lead role in welcoming, supporting and creating new opportunities for the veterans who have served our country so valiantly. The skills, experiences and leadership they bring to our campuses will enrich and diversify the learning environment for all students.”

Thanks to this program with support from the Government of Alberta, we are again playing a lead role in welcoming, supporting and creating new opportunities for the veterans who have served our country so valiantly.

Bill Flanagan, U of A president and vice-chancellor

“Many of our brave veterans require tailored solutions to help them re-skill and build new careers. This two-year pilot program will allow the University of Alberta to better understand the needs of veterans and develop a model that can be shared with other post-secondary institutions in Alberta,” said Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

“This helps position the U of A as a welcoming institution where veterans can pursue their post-secondary educations, evolve their knowledge and skills into the civilian workforce and enable them to continue to be effective, contributing members of society,” said Suzette Brémault-Phillips, director of the Heroes in Mind, Advocacy and Research Consortium (HiMARC).

‘Holistic support system’ for veterans

HiMARC, a research initiative for military, veteran and public safety personnel based in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, helped bring the VFC concept to the U of A. Appropriate supports can better enable veterans to be successful when transitioning to civilian life and pursuing post-secondary education, Brémault-Phillips said.

“They may benefit from connecting with other veterans, receiving support adjusting to post-secondary culture or managing housing, financial and study skill pressures, particularly if they’re mature students.”

The VFC services, which will be offered through the U of A Dean of Students Office, will focus on improving post-secondary transition for veterans through measures tailored to their talents and needs, such as prior learning assessments that take into account their existing military training and attributes. The VFC would also offer peer support, veterans’ study groups and more specialized advising.

“We welcome this important opportunity to develop a holistic support system for veteran student success and facilitate their transition to university life,” said dean of students André Costopoulos.

“Increased participation by Canada’s veterans will provide invaluable contributions to our University of Alberta community,” Costopoulos added.

Learning from veterans’ life experiences

Veterans offer hard-earned, valuable life experiences other students can learn from, said Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Beare, who is studying part-time for an MBA at the U of A and volunteered his time with HiMARC to help with the VFC project. 

“They have a lot of lived experience that is often unrivalled in a classroom, and that’s really beneficial for other students,” said Beare. 

“I’ve seen first-hand so many outstanding leadership examples in my career, it’s what we do in the CAF. I can bring a viewpoint from my experience to my fellow students and to my professors that might otherwise remain theoretical. To have someone from the CAF in a class allows students and faculty to ask questions and learn more about the service of our veterans, much the same way as the veteran would learn from their classmates’ experiences; it really enhances the learning environment.”

A VFC can also help foster a better understanding of veterans’ perspectives and experiences.

Now studying for an executive MBA at the U of A, former Canadian Armed Forces combat engineer Chad Rizzato says it was a real cultural adjustment at first, to bridge a philosophical gap between the post-secondary atmosphere and a nightmarish experience he had several years ago.

Rizzato and his fellow soldiers were driving through a poppy field in Afghanistan in 2009 when their vehicle hit a homemade bomb and blew up. The explosion killed one of his friends, and three others, including Rizzato, suffered broken backs.

“In the military, when you work in the worst parts of the world and are exposed to those realities, you tend to be more pragmatic than liberal in your world view. I’ve held some opposite views from my professors and classmates, for sure.”

The initiative will also see the development of a template and tool kit that can be replicated by other Alberta post-secondary institutions in creating their own veteran-friendly campuses. The tools include recruitment strategies, admissions guidance and tailored mentorship. 

The VFC project aligns with the Veterans Education and Training Benefit, post-secondary funding available to eligible veterans through Veterans Affairs Canada.

Beare, who is also commanding officer of the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Unit Alberta and Northern Canada, hopes the U of A veteran-friendly campus concept will eventually spread across Canada. 

“It would be tremendous to see resources or programs that make it easier for veterans to access education that otherwise might have seemed unattainable to them. The VFC initiative has so much potential to remove barriers that may be standing in the way of a veteran’s transition plan.”

Veterans have much to offer society beyond their military service, added Brémault-Phillips. 

“They’re shaped by teamwork and collaboration that is foundational to their military careers and possess core values grounded in service to others. They bring their values, their leadership skills and their unique life experiences with them. The VFC initiative will help them leverage and build upon their skills and knowledge, and enable them to continue helping build strong communities in Alberta and beyond.”

Prospective or current students can direct inquiries about the Veteran-Friendly Campus pilot program to or through Student Connect.