Boston College Veterans Affinity Group members (L-R) Michael Lorenz, Erin Flaherty, Linda Malenfant and R. Darrell Peterson. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The University has established a Veterans Affinity Group to improve outreach and services to Boston College students and employees who have served their country.

There are a total of 84 students, including 18 undergraduates, who self-identify as veterans, according to the Office of Student Services. In addition, approximately 80 employees self-identify as veterans, according to the University’s Human Resources division.

The initiative has taken shape under the guidance of a steering committee made up of representatives from departments across BC, including Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead, a U.S. Army veteran.

Administrators say there are students and employees who have opted not to report their veteran status. The group wants to encourage additional veterans to make the University aware of their status and help to identify services and programs they may need.

“We want it to be a group that supports veterans as part of the BC community,” said Lochhead, who served in the Army before enrolling as a full-time undergraduate at BC and earning his bachelor’s degree in 1993. “Veterans add a lot to our University. Although missions differ between a university and a branch of the armed services, veterans are accustomed to serving a mission and a cause that is greater than themselves and in that regard they can and do contribute in meaningful and important ways to an institution like Boston College.”

The University has an active veterans’ alumni network, Division of Human Resources recruitment initiatives, and the College Warrior Athlete Initiative, a research program of the Connell School of Nursing. The Veterans Affinity Group has hosted speakers and conducted outreach to prospective veteran employees.

The group hopes to build on those efforts, serving as a clearing house of information and a sounding board for veterans themselves, said steering committee chair Michael Lorenz, an associate director in Residential Life and a U.S. Air Force veteran who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lorenz said the group wants to be a resource for staff and faculty, as well as support veterans enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs. Another goal is to draw on the experiences of former service members to raise awareness among members of the campus community who have little or no experience with military life.

“There are many things related to veterans happening on campus, but there is no central point to bring those all together,” he said. “Our emphasis is to be a resource for people who don’t know how to talk about these issues.”

Erin Flaherty earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Connell School, then served three years active duty as a nurse practitioner in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of captain while stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

She returned to BC as a doctoral student in the Connell School and is a resident assistant. The transition to civilian life required some adjustments.

“It was a bigger change than I thought it would be,” said Flaherty. “It could be little things, like having to figure out what to wear to work. If I didn’t know the campus so well, it could have been more difficult.”

In addition to focusing on issues including education, employment, health and the transition from military to civilian life, Lorenz said he wants the group to encourage a wider conversation on campus about America’s veterans.

There are 20.8 million American military veterans, including 2.1 million veterans who served in the global war on terror since 2001, according to US Department of Veterans Affairs data.

“When students leave BC, they will meet veterans—whether it’s a friend or family member, a co-worker or a neighbor—and hopefully get to know them,” said Lorenz.

Part of the effort is to develop a more accurate count of the number of veterans employed at BC, said Judy Ferres, an associate director of the Office for Institutional Diversity, and an affinity group member. Veterans are given the option to self-identify with Human Resources and approximately 80 have done so, but many others have not.

“We want the veterans who work here or who may want to work here to know that BC is a veteran-friendly employer,” said Ferres. “Human Resources attends veterans job fairs to recruit and consults with organizations focused on workforce development for veterans. We’re excited to be part of the effort to better serve the needs of veterans who are employees, as well as students and other members of the community who have served our country.”

The Carroll Graduate School of Management MBA Program enrolls the largest number of veterans, according to the Office of Student Services, which works with veterans and dependents who receive education benefits, such as the GI Bill. All veteran undergraduate students are enrolled in the Woods College of Advancing Studies.

Flaherty said she welcomed the creation of the affinity group, adding that even she is unaware of many of her fellow veterans on campus. She said the greater the awareness of the presence of veterans on campus, the more connections can be made.

“Some students may be uneasy approaching a veteran because they are unsure of their experience in the military,” said Flaherty. “For me, I had a great experience. But it’s not that easy to spot a veteran and some students may not know how to approach them. I think the best way to start is to simply ask them ‘What was your experience like?’”

For more information, visit BC's Veteran Resources website

By Ed Hayward | News & Public Affairs