Creating a campus community where veterans’ affairs is part of the inclusive conversation is a main priority of double Viking Sam Ohannesian, ’03, ’10G, senior director of student retention services and veterans’ affairs at Salem State University. For over 14 years, he has been educating military-connected students about their veterans education benefits and resources that assist students in achieving academic, personal and career goals.
“We want the relationship with our veteran and military-connected students to be relational, not transactional,” says Ohannesian. “Creating relationships with the military-connected student population can be challenging. Military life is structured, so when they arrive on a college campus they feel thrown into things and need our support to navigate registration, accessing benefits, social enrichment, and so much more. They have a different path than the ‘traditional’ student and we’re here to provide the support they need.”
Ohannesian has always had a passion and respect for vets and military service, eventually finding himself working with the population at his alma mater after realizing the tremendous need for advocacy and community support.
“The veterans' affairs office was a vital support resource throughout my time at Salem State. From steering me through the admissions process, handing me a graduation stole, to keeping me connected as a veteran alumnus, Sam, Ted and the team demonstrated genuine care for our success. I believe the veterans’ affairs office truly understood the needs of student veterans and were able to find the perfect balance of helping students enjoy the ‘traditional’ college experience while providing specialized support services for veterans,” said Patrick Cornell ’14, who served in the U.S. Army as a 13B field artilleryman during ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ and ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ and credits his professional success to his military experience and his Salem State education.
Ohannesian and his veterans’ affairs colleagues, Ted Serozynsky and Ben Whelihan, acknowledge that Salem State was responsive in seeing the need for veteran support services, allowing resources to grow and evolve overtime. In 2014, the Veterans Center opened its campus doors in the Ellison Center, quickly becoming a safe space for military-connected students to engage socially through on-campus events and seminars featuring experts on financial literacy, home ownership, VA home loans and education, service dog eligibility, and more.
“The veterans’ learning community was a huge source of support. It gave me a ready-made social network and provided insight on other veteran experiences. The seminars and classes worked as a bridge that for many of us meant the difference between dropping out and graduating,” said Tom Laaser ’20, who medically retired from the U.S. Army after serving with the 10th mountain division as a field artillery cannon crewmember. “I left the military feeling hopeless. I never thought I would go to college, let alone thrive in an academic setting. If it hadn't been for the veterans' affairs office, I would not be looking at the diploma hanging on my wall, nor would I have a community of peers I still engage with.”
“Our top priority is to support the financial, emotional and academic needs of our students,” says Ohannesian. “This population has given so much to our country and they deserve nothing but our very best. And if I have anything to do with a student’s success, that is impactful.”
The Veterans’ Second Mission Fund has been established to provide financial support to the veterans’ affairs office and to enhance the educational experience of student veterans. Visit our website to learn more or make a gift.