ASHLAND — A U.S. senator said Thursday he would love to see other schools in Ohio do what Ashland University is doing for its military veteran students.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown made a brief stop to the university’s Military and Veteran Resource Center on Veterans Day.
The center, known as The Jack, is meant to act as a hub for the school’s student veterans, both for community and a guide for resources available to them.
The center was dedicated in October 2020, following a $1 million injection from AU alumna and trustee Deborah Liebert Karl made in honor and memory of her late father, Jack W. Liebert, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War.
“I’ve never seen this amount of dedication to veteran students at a school like this around Ohio,” Brown said while touring the space.
The space, formerly a Brethren church, offers veteran and military-connected students a space to study and connect with others. There are separate rooms for studying, a kitchen and a common area featuring couches, chairs and a television.
The university currently has 170 veteran students enrolled, with another 150 military-connected students, meaning spouses or family members of veterans.
The university also houses veteran students in its USA house, located across campus from the Jack, said Randy Spade, the university’s director of veteran services.
“This is available 24/7 and 365 (days a year), so students can use a keycard to gain access whenever needed,” he said.
The senator spent time in the common area talking to veteran students who gathered for the informal event.
One of them was Micah Powell, 23, who hails from Pittsburgh but now lives on Ashland University’s campus as a freshman studying journalism.
He said he got out of the Navy last year at the start of the pandemic because he wanted to start his next journey: college education. He visited several schools, including University of Pittsburgh, University of Findlay, Ohio University and others.
What stood out to Powell about Ashland was the school’s proactiveness with him.
“They were always looking out for me,” he said. Powell was also impressed by Ashland’s resource center, a facility unique to the schools he visited during his search.
Non-veteran Ashland University students benefit from having veterans in the classroom with them, said Margaret Pomfret, vice president of institutional advancement at Ashland University. She said the average age of a student veteran is 26, compared to most traditional students who are around 18 and 19 years-old.
“We really like having veterans in classrooms. It just enriches everyone’s experience because they bring a different perspective to life,” she said.
Brown agreed, adding veterans who have served tours in Iraq compared to students fresh out of high school are two very different perspectives.
“That’s a good experience for both of them,” he said.
Brown, who sits on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said veteran suicide rates in America are too high and the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs need to “do better than they have done.”
Suicides among U.S. troops rose 15% in 2020 from the previous year, according to Pentagon data. It means 580 troops died by suicide in 2020, up from 504 in 2019.
Brown said the federal government also does not “deal with mental health of veterans very well.”
He said Ashland University is doing a “phenomenal job” when it comes to helping veterans navigate college.
“But we as a nation have a particular obligation,” Brown said. “For those veterans who want to go to school after their service, this is a good place to do it … I’d love to see some other schools in Ohio do what Ashland’s doing.”