Program Paves Way for Student Veterans Transitioning to Campus Life
Carmen Halcomb, a former team leader for the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education program, visits with Air Force veteran and history senior David Harrison South in the Military and Veteran Center.
Navy veteran B’Jard Jones was wary of asking for help with his academic career at The University of Texas at Dallas because he had been trained in the military to know how to figure things out.
After serving 14 years in the Navy, the newly discharged corpsman wanted to earn a biology degree in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and eventually become a physician assistant. But navigating the academic options at a university and connecting with educational benefits proved overwhelming at times.
“As veterans, we tend to think, ‘I can do this. This is my responsibility. I need to figure this out.’ But you are not here alone. There are people who can help,” Jones said.
“As veterans, we tend to think, ‘I can do this. This is my responsibility. I need to figure this out.’ But you are not here alone. There are people who can help.”
Jones found the help he needed at UT Dallas’ Military and Veteran Center (MVC), which trains student veterans to offer peer support and resources for others who are making the transition to campus life.
Through the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE) program, which launched at UT Dallas last year, participants attend training sessions and reach out to assigned student veterans at least once a month to offer informal support. They also meet with other peer advisors to share successes and discuss any challenges.
“We let students know we are available if they have any questions that they need an answer to right away. They don’t have to wait in line,” said Carmen Halcomb, a human resource management senior in the Naveen Jindal School of Management and former PAVE team leader in the MVC.
PAVE leaders are students with military service who maintain good academic standing and can engage with and motivate people from diverse backgrounds.
“The PAVE program has given UT Dallas student veterans another resource for navigating campus life with peer support,” said Lisa Adams, director of the MVC. “Our peer advisors have firsthand experience with transitioning from the military and beginning a degree program at UTD. They are in the trenches with balancing academics, work and life. Not only has PAVE assisted with introducing new students to UT Dallas, it has also provided leadership opportunities for the peer advisors.”
Halcomb, a human resources specialist in the Army, arrived at UT Dallas in her mid-30s to earn her bachelor’s degree. She became the University’s first PAVE team leader, helping student veterans accept “a more unstructured life” than they had in the military.
“We tend to relate what we’re learning to the military, and how we think things should be done,” Halcomb said, adding she has become more understanding of students who are late to class or come unprepared.
Since then, she has trained scores of peer advisors and paired them with hundreds of new student veterans. Her accomplishments have earned her Student Employee of the Year awards from both UT Dallas and the Southern Association of Student Employment Administrators.
Among the students she advised last year was Jones, who is now a junior and serves as a team leader for the PAVE program.
“I had to learn that study habits are different at a university,” Jones said. “In the military, they led you to how you should answer a question. Here there’s more critical thinking and you need a deeper understanding of the subject matter.”
Marcus Ayala, 29, an Air Force captain who earned a degree in international relations from the University of Nebraska, came to UT Dallas to complete post-baccalaureate prerequisites to apply to physician assistant schools. He also found guidance at the MVC.
“They really did take care of me. I had a ton of questions about whether I qualified for educational benefits. And they had coffee, which was great,” Ayala said.
“I went to the center every day. It’s a one-stop shop to direct you to resources like tutoring and military benefits,” Ayala said. “Now I almost find myself walking in this direction by reflex when I’m on campus. There’s something about having our own place.”
Ayala eventually asked about becoming a peer advisor so he could help other student veterans connect with the same resources.
“Some veterans want to distance themselves from their military service, and I totally respect that. But on the other hand, you did your time. You might as well take advantage of resources available to you,” Ayala said.
Among those resources are the MVC’s resume workshops and VETworking career events, where corporate recruiters with military experience come to interview UT Dallas student veterans.
“I’m a UTD fan for life,” Ayala said. “The University has its priorities in order, and it gives students every resource available for them to succeed. If you put the work in, you’ll get results.”
PAVE advisors gathered for a welcome lunch last year. From left: Ryan Wanner, Lendon Burnett, Malicka Modgil, Jose Delgado, B'Jard Jones, Sean Roberson and Marcus Ayala.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].