Out of the Field and Into the Classroom

Chad McMahon in Iraq.

2004 in Haswah, Iraq in the Al Anbar province. Chad McMahon was on watch behind a machine gun.

It all started three years ago when Lecturer Susan Hanson was teaching Representations of the Experience of War. Although the course had been offered through the Department of Comparative Studies for decades, she realized that the content would be perfect for returning veterans.

“Our idea was to offer the class exclusively to veterans,” said Eugene Holland, chair of Comparative Studies. “We wanted an opportunity for them to engage in conversations with other veterans and reflect on the representations of war experience in a variety of media.”

1114 Student Veterans; 36 Active Duty Students (Does not include any ROTC students); 
240 Military Family members; 99 Employees serving in the National Guard or Reserves; 
1050 Employee Self-identified Veterans

Hanson spearheaded an initiative that would become the Veterans Learning Community (VLC). The VLC provides veteran and military students with opportunities to interact with faculty and staff, take special-topic general education curriculum (GEC) courses, and develop and collaborate on undergraduate research projects.
Student veteran and VLC participant, Chad McMahon served four years with the Marine Corps before enrolling as a student. 

“Leaving the military and going straight to college is pretty overwhelming,” he said. You come from an environment where your days are heavily structured, to an environment where you’re responsible for creating your own structure. Few students on campus have had this experience.

McMahon is working with a long-term study examining how prosthetics can improve the quality of life for veterans with amputations.

Desk with a scope laid on top.“The VLC offers that extra cushion of support that can ease the transition to campus life,” said Art major and Air Force veteran Erica Slone. Slone and fellow veteran, Ash Woolson, received an Idea Lab Grant in 2010 for their exhibition, Visualizing the Experiences of War. For the exhibition, 20 pairs of artists and veterans worked together to create a diverse collection of artwork to communicate the military experience to civilians.

“I think that we tend to remember our experiences in fragments initially, but the more we share them with others, the more we begin to understand them and gain perspective,” said Slone.  

Dorothy Noyes is associate professor of English and Comparative Studies and director of the Center for Folklore Studies, which was an early sponsor of the VLC.

“Susan’s students have done especially interesting work documenting the rituals and metaphors of military culture, and that helps them to become conscious of how they themselves have been shaped by the military as an institution,” she said.

“Sharing a bond of educational inquiry with a background in armed service enhances each student’s engagement and adds to the diversity of our university in very positive ways,” said Mark Shanda, divisional dean of arts and humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Student veteran Tyler Parks is majoring in International Studies with a specialization in Security and Intelligence. He started classes in the fall of 2010 and participates in the VLC. Parks said, The student veteran population on campus is increasing and the VLC and Vets 4 Vets offer a foundation we can continue to expand.

Painted military jackets.

Hanging jackets contributed by The War Experience Project founder and Iraq veteran Rick Lawson

Learn more about Visualizing the Experiences of War at the Urban Arts Space.