BETHANY, W.Va. – A newly created student organization at Bethany College is helping student veterans become college graduates. Bethany’s chapter of Student Veterans of America was founded last month by senior Andrew Drilak, who served in the U.S. Navy. Throughout the week of Veterans Day, the organization is holding events to honor those who have served.
The goal of the organization is to provide veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and beyond. Bethany’s chapter also hopes to create awareness of the difficulties veterans may face while transitioning from a deployment to campus.
“It’s really tough – to shift from life in the military to civilian life,” Drilak said. After his freshman year at Bethany, he joined the U.S. Navy. After training as a sonar technician, he went on a deployment, primarily off the coast of Somalia. He’s been back for three years, and is now a senior at Bethany.
“It’s a whole different way of life, being back at school. In the military, you’re told when to eat, when to go on watch, when to wake up. You go from that, to coming back and having to set your own schedule. Everything is so different,” he said.
This week, the organization held a lecture on PTSD and veteran homelessness awareness. Other events include a memoriam and reflection of sacrifice for MIA/POW soldiers, as well as a lecture on the challenges faced by female members of the armed forces.
Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Aaron Anslow, the club’s advisor and a 2006 Bethany graduate, also left for a deployment during college. He served in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves, and remembers the difficulty of being back on a college campus.
“I came back and I just knew too much. You see the world through a different lens,” he said.
“We lost people over there, and I realized that those people don’t have the chance to follow their dreams. It’s a luxury – going to school. Having the option to choose your fate,” he said. He hopes this club will keep veterans focused on finishing their degrees.
Because the club is so new, it doesn’t yet have many members, Anslow said. However, its members include a wide range of veterans, from reservists and Army National Guard members, to those who have served in the Navy, Army and Marine Corps. The group is also hoping to see involvement from any interested Bethany students, regardless of military background.
“We just want all our veterans to know that we’ll be holding weekly meetings, and they can come talk to us. We can even find resources for them if they need help,” Anslow said.
The group also plans to extend its reach outside of campus, and is planning fundraisers to help local homeless veterans. They hope to raise money to help those who are currently deployed as well, Drilak said, and they are working with other student organizations to write letters and create care packages to be sent overseas.
For the last five years, Bethany College has been named to the Military Friendly Schools list by Victory Media, Inc., the premier media entity for military personnel transitioning into civilian life. The list honors the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are doing the most to embrace America’s military service members, veterans, and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus.
Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.