Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State creating peer support program for veterans

May 9, 2013

Robert English remembers when, several years ago, an Indiana State University student in the National Guard learned that he was going to be called to active duty two weeks before the end of the semester, which jeopardized his ability to take final exams.

Fortunately, English and other Indiana State administrators intervened, enabling the student to finish his coursework as expected. But the scenario is just one of many complications that student veterans can encounter.

Indiana State is creating a new peer program to facilitate veterans' transition to the university. The Coach a Vet initiative will pair veterans who are upperclassmen to those who are incoming first-year students. The program, which will train veteran coaches this summer before pairing them with new students, will start this fall with about 15 pairs of participants.

"Sometimes the problem with vets who are returning (to civilian life) is there are so many things in terms of educational opportunities that they have to know about, so it really is trying to match up people who have the answers with people who have those questions," said English, associate dean of the College of Technology at Indiana State who served for 40 years in the Indiana National Guard. "Having a coach in the driver's seat helping them determine where to go to find the answers is a wonderful solution."

In addition to learning about university offices and setting, veterans also need to be able to navigate additional offices and agencies that provide services, said Gerald Cockrell, professor emeritus of electronic engineering technology and Vietnam War veteran. He is helping to create the new peer coaching program.

"There are veterans who are dropping out because of different reasons, including not getting answers to situations and problems that are probably pretty simple to resolve, and they're deciding to go onto something else," Cockrell said. "Our main focus is to increase the rate of retention of veterans."

The transition to the university setting can be complicated for veterans, who are coming from a very regimented military atmosphere to a setting where solutions to complex situations can sometimes be difficult to find, particularly to someone unfamiliar to the new surroundings.

"I've seen a lot of different situations pop up where sometimes it's best to get two or three people together to create a solution for an individual's situation," English said.Veterans who volunteer to be coaches will participate in three eight-hour training sessions this summer, Cockrell said. The veteran coaches will provide information, be a counselor on occasion, and mostly "listen to the veteran (student), and give advice when needed."

Indiana State received a grant from the Wabash Valley Community Foundation to implement the program. Participants also will work with Indiana State professors and administrators to teach them about some of the complex issues that veterans encounter when enrolling at the university after serving in the military.

"This is another step of many that we've taken to make ISU one of the most military friendly campuses in the nation," English said. "We want veterans to understand that we're listening to what they have to say, we're trying to implement solutions to their problems, and we're here to help."

For more information about the program, including to volunteer, contact Robert English at 812-237-3881 or

Photo: John T. Myers Technology Center at Indiana State University

Contact: Robert English, associate dean, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3881 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or