Kean University receives federal grant to increase services for student veterans

Photo Courtesy of Margaret McCorry
Kean senior Ashley Tufuga, a U.S. Navy veteran, said a new Center for Veterans Services at the university will give student veterans ‘the sense of being part of a bigger mission.’

UNION, NJ — Kean University has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that will expand its nationally recognized services for student veterans to further smooth their transition to college and support them during their time at the university.

The $447,971 award will establish a Center for Veterans Services at both the main Kean campus in Union and Kean Ocean in Toms River, and make services and virtual services available to students at Kean Skylands in Jefferson.

“This will provide a more detailed single service in one location,” said Vito Zajda, director of Veteran Student Services at Kean. “The transition from soldier to student is a difficult one. You’re so accustomed to a regimented way of life, you come home and things may have changed; there’s a lot to take in. The GI Bill helps veterans further or start their education, but it’s our job in the university to support them in this transition.”

Kean currently has an Office of Veteran Student Services and recently was named a “Gold Top 10 Military Friendly School” for the third year in a row.

The new center will expand what Kean offers, providing single-service assistance to help vets navigate admissions, registration, financial aid and other tasks; and providing adaptive sports and activity programs for veterans, starting with yoga.

Zajda, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, said there are currently 278 veterans enrolled at Kean, a number projected to reach 350 in the fall. The goal is to recruit even more veteran students.

Ashley Tufuga of Scotch Plains, a Kean senior majoring in marketing and a peer mentor for veterans, formerly served as a petty officer third class in the U.S. Navy. She said having a support team for veterans at Kean is “invaluable.”

“It’s already hard for many veterans to readjust to civilian life, so when you add the extra pressures of school it can be overwhelming. Camaraderie is big in the military, and having a vet center on campus will give our vets the sense of being part of a bigger mission,” she said.

The grant will provide funding for three years. Prior to the application, Zajda said student veterans were polled about services they would like to see offered at Kean and adaptive sports ranked high.

“A lot of vets are doing yoga. It provides mental clarity, a recharge or reset button,” Zajda said. In addition to yoga, he said, hopes are to expand offerings to include kayaking, canoeing, bowling or other sports.

The center will also offer more veterans nontraditional forms of therapy by using Kean’s digital fabrication lab, where veterans can use a 3-D printer to create. Two veterans using the lab created a prosthesis expansion device, which would make prostheses adaptable in the case of weight loss or gain. The project was submitted as part of Kean University’s Research Days, Zajda said.