From Military to Academy: The Writing and Learning Transitions of Student-Veterans by Mark Blaauw-Hara (Utah State University Press, September 1, 2021, 152 pages)
Written by a college professor to his peers, Mark Blaauw-Hara uncovers the harsh realities of the veteran-to-student transition. He offers an overdue and intimate look into the mindset of service members, presenting practical and easy solutions to a problem often ignored. Blaauw-Hara identifies the overwhelming feelings veterans may commonly face when immersed in a collegiate environment.
Active duty service members are not the author’s primary audience, but the book is beneficial to both active duty and veterans. Blaauw-Hara relates a student-veteran’s experience to culture shock, calling it learning shock and paints a picture seemingly close to imposter syndrome. He recognizes veterans have three key strengths: drive to complete the mission, they understand the world, and they desire to connect. If veterans harness these strengths correctly, the shock fades away. Then, veterans and faculty are both left benefiting from the relationship.
While veteran students display signs of self-efficacy, their high motivation and strong work ethic are hidden when the mission is not clear. Blaauw-Hara shows this through detailed interviews. For a military member, the transition to the civilian world is not just leaving a job. It is leaving a way of life where clarity is key. Once a veteran comprehends a task, they are hard wired to plan, execute, and learn from it. In conversations with fellow professors, it becomes apparent to Blaauw-Hara that both parties value conciseness, but define and apply it differently. Despite what is perceived as an impasse, veteran-students struggle through academia, unable to fail the mission.
Compared to traditional students, veterans hold a much broader understanding of the world. Blaauw-Hara notes if their experiences are devalued, there is a risk they will also be devalued. Understanding andragogy and some of its key principles, such as orientation to learning and the need to know, is paramount. Military members are often disconnected from academia’s methods of learning and writing, but the world they came from instilled a similar skill set. Service members consistently write; from technical orders to evaluation reports. However, they rarely recognize it as writing, especially while enlisted. Therefore, there is an inherent anxiety when writing at the collegiate level. When taught a writing style based on being concise, error free, supported, and organized, a veteran’s transition should be seamless. But again, the audiences’ definitions vary, driving the need for continuous feedback. This practice is familiar to service members.
Most importantly, Blaauw-Hara cites the veteran’s desire to connect. Military life focuses on a team mentality, but college is a time to focus on the individual. This is disheartening for veteran-students. Accustomed to putting the needs of their country first, the author recognizes military members may perceive academia as the most selfish environment ever encountered. They also have a hard time identifying as students, sharing very little in common with their peers. Veterans find themselves torn between two identities. They struggle between staying true to the person they were in the military and wanting to fit in with normal society; a society that has difficulty interacting with stigmatized groups. Working with civilians can be a challenge, but professors can help by facilitating connections with other veterans or adult learners.
Blaauw-Hara does a flawless job of focusing on what student-veterans bring to the table, enabling professors to shift focus away from alleged shortcomings. The book also presents a unique and invaluable perspective for current military members, those separating or retiring soon, and those already facing the aforementioned obstacles. By putting research and context to these issues, the author shines a light on problems plaguing those who have earned a break. He creates an easily executable roadmap to stop the candle from burning at both ends. It is a win-win for all parties.
MSgt. Morris is the Public Affairs Superintendent for Seventh Air Force, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. She serves as chief PA enlisted advisor to 7th AF senior staff and two wing PA offices on media relations, strategic communication, community relations, and command information for 8,300 Airmen and 117 units.