Providing opportunities at Ferris State University has included a decades-long commitment to supporting veterans of the U.S. military in their educational pursuits. That emphasis continues with the Veteran Resource Center in the David L. Eisler Center near the Center For Student Involvement and other campus outreach operations.
Assistant Director of Veteran Services Jacob Schrot said he was aware of previous dedicated veteran spaces in the former Rankin Student Center and the now-demolished Helen Ferris Hall before he arrived in 2015.
“I began as a departmental affiliate after serving as a corrections officer,” Schrot said. “Being an active military member through the Army National Guard Delta Company 1-125 at the Big Rapids Armory provides a unique opportunity for our students. I can call contacts I have made in my 19 years in the military, in contrast to the financial aid counselors at other schools whose relationship with veterans is often a secondary element of their positions.”
Schrot joined the Marine Corps in 2001, serving as a combat engineer at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and had a one-year deployment to Iraq in 2008 with his ANG unit.
“I believe my experience helps me have a well-rounded perspective, to communicate with our veterans on campus about their experiences and apply what I learned from my journey to secure all appropriate benefits for these students,” Schrot said. “We collaborate with Career and Professional Services, Admissions and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps staff to bring forward any benefits for which our veterans may qualify.”
Schrot said processing GI Bill® paperwork and reaching out to organizations such as the Veterans Administration for disability claims are his main assistance methods.
“Until a few years ago, we had a VA liaison who would visit campus each month to assist our student veterans with their requests,” Schrot said. “An emergency fund is available to these students to help them meet any critical needs they might face.”
Schrot is also an adviser to the Student Veterans of America registered student organization. Business Administration major Ian Knapp, who grew up in several West Michigan communities, is the president. he came to Ferris following his time with the Army’s 101st Airborne.
“I entered the service in 2019 and was an HR Specialist but suffered an injury in a combat training exercise, so I was medically separated,” Knapp said. “Another veteran recognized me when I came to campus and referred me to the Veterans Resource Center, where I have received all kinds of assistance over the last 10 months.”
Knapp said he plans to use his military experience in Human Resources by gaining a minor as part of his Business Administration studies.
“Those of us in the SVA have a lot of understanding for each other and perseverance,” Knapp said. “We are focused on making the situation better for each other, pushing for the best result for all of us, not concerned with our ranks or titles.”
Knapp added, “Every veteran has a unique experience. Whether they were in a particular branch of the military, the ROTC or Army National Guard, so we want them to use the Veteran Resource Center for assistance, including scholarships, while participating in assisting other veterans or those able to use veteran resources and networking with other veteran outreaches that will be a benefit to all of us.”
SVA Vice President Alexis Saagman, of Sand Lake, has three years’ experience with the Army National Guard’s 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, based in the Greenville Armory. She wants to use her Pre-Veterinary learning to become a large animal travel doctor, but advocates for veterans who may have struggles as retirees or senior citizens through the student organization.
“We want to assist those elderly vets who may need snow shoveled or some other project cared for,” Saagman said. “We also help them maintain their pride in military service by replacing American flags and properly disposing of damaged or soiled flags.”
Saagman said she is proud of her role in the military and with the Student Veterans of America chapter.
“I find many like-minded people who have contributed to my college experience,” Saagman said. “In this leadership role, I am working hard to get our members and students in the ROTC chapter to the 15th annual SVA national convention in Florida, coming up before our beginning Spring 2023 classes.”
The SVA chapter is building its ranks in the months after COVID restrictions have lifted and are proud of its relationship with the Disabled Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the residents of the Grand Rapids Veterans Home.
“The members of SVA do a great deal to benefit others, which is a real point of pride for the university and a story we are happy to share with the community,” Schrot said.