DEKALB – Northern Illinois University today received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Veterans Education for exemplary efforts in providing greater educational and informational resources for student veterans.
Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Dan Grant presented NIU President John Peters with the award during a ceremony at the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb, in recognition of the school’s implementation of the Higher Education Veterans Service Act. Governor Pat Quinn signed the legislation in August 2009 to expand resources and information for student veterans at Illinois’ colleges and universities.
“We must do everything we can to make sure that our service men and women, who have served our country proudly, have all the tools they need to further their education,” said Governor Pat Quinn. “I applaud Northern Illinois University for their outstanding efforts to provide student Veterans with access to on-campus resources and benefits that will help them make the transition back to school.”
“I strongly encourage other public schools in Illinois to keep working toward making their campuses as Veteran-friendly as NIU,” Governor Quinn said.
NIU is only the second university statewide to receive the award. About 800 student veterans at NIU are served by the campus Military Student Services office in Gilbert Hall, providing a “one-stop shop” with information on programs, services, academic support and accessing benefits. Five full-time staffers, graduate students, fellow student veterans and a Veterans Service Officer from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) all provide support through the Military Student Services office.
NIU also has developed orientation programs designed for and led by veterans. The university also offers a special course on the college experience for veterans, has enhanced mental health services for veterans and actively works to educate faculty and staff about the unique needs of student veterans.
“Northern Illinois University has shown outstanding leadership in providing resources that best serve student veterans, like the Military Student Services office,” said IDVA Director Dan Grant. “NIU not only meets but far exceeds our expectations in offering student veterans the tools they need to successfully transition to the university environment.”
Earlier this year, Military Times EDGE magazine ranked NIU 49th on its list of 101 top colleges for veterans, out of a total 4,000 institutions. G.I. Jobs magazine also named NIU one of the top veteran-friendly schools in the country for the second consecutive year. The grade point average of NIU student veterans is also 10 percent higher than the overall GPA of the student body, administrators said.
“I believe this award recognizes two very important dimensions of our university community,” NIU President Peters said. “It is an acknowledgment of NIU’s commitment to the success of its veteran students, and it is a reflection on the outstanding students who have joined our institution after serving our country. These student veterans are outstanding role models who exemplify character, leadership, service to the community and academic success.”
The legislation (Senate Bill 1624) passed in August 2009 and requires public colleges and universities in Illinois to create, publish and distribute a comprehensive guide of services available to veterans at their institutions. It also requires schools with 1,000 or more full-time students to appoint a coordinator to act as a liaison between administrators and student veterans. About 60 schools with enrollment of 1,000 or more currently participate in the program.
“We connect as liaisons between the different institutions that provide benefits, so we can go to bat for other student veterans if they’re running into walls,” said Dan Tsutsumi, 25, a broadcast journalism student and former Marine Corps sergeant who served two tours of duty in Iraq. “We try our best to provide guidance, counseling and educational services that go above and beyond.