Campus and Community


A Safe Space

Sense of belonging permeates UWSP Veterans Club

Jeanne Nagle | Campus and Community | November 11, 2020

Veterans Club adviser Terese Barta

Members of the United States military are known for having each other’s backs. That credo forms the very heart and soul of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Veterans Club.

“Non-veteran civilians don’t see a lot of things the way veterans often do,” says biology professor and club adviser Terese Barta. “The club gives vets a way to commiserate with someone who understands. Veterans will help each other. That’s part of their ethos.” 

Now in its twelfth year, the Veterans Club is a student-run organization that helps veterans make the transition from military base to campus, barracks to residence hall. The organization holds social events such as game nights, and also spearheads fundraising efforts to benefit local veterans organizations and other charitable causes. More than that, the club offers a “safe space,” where veterans can gather with others who have served.

“Having an office where veteran-students can meet, just hang out and work on homework is very important,” Barta says.

“It is a place to just get anything off your chest,” says club president Zach Cummings, “or to share knowledge and experiences.”

Cummings served eight years active duty in the Army, including a 15-month deployment to Iraq beginning in 2007. After his service ended, he opted not to go home to Texas, instead traveling to Wisconsin and crashing with an Army buddy “while I was out looking for a job and trying to get transitioned into civilian life.” The jobs he found either didn’t pay enough or triggered his PTSD. So, after earning his associate degree from Nicolet College in Rhinelander, he enrolled at UWSP, where he is working toward a bachelor’s in fisheries and aquatic sciences.

Veterans Club president Zach Cummings






When asked why he joined the Veterans Club in 2019, during his first semester on campus, Cummings says, “I feel like the hardest part about being a veteran college student is the lack of commonality that I have with traditional college students. Being an active member of the club gave me a space to get away from everything while still being on campus, and it also provided people who had those shared experiences.”

Veterans frequently go through a tricky adjustment period when transitioning from military life back to being a civilian. Add to that the normal pressures of entering or returning to college and its easy to see how the Veterans Club can be a welcome lifeline.

“Going from having a very regimented schedule every day and always having someone present to tell me what to do, I did experience feelings of being lost,” says former club president Josh Fager of his transition period. “Luckily, UWSP has a very active Veterans Club, and I found the camaraderie from the military I had been missing.”

Fager served in the Navy for five years (2008-13), deployed in the Persian Gulf and working on the flight deck of the USS Dwight Eisenhower in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon returning stateside, he enrolled at UWSP, taking advantage of the GI Bill to fund his education at the historically military-friendly university.

“I started up as an active member of the club my first semester, and I believe I attended my first meeting during my second week,” he says.

Being a member was such a positive experience for Fager that he chose to run for club president during his second semester back in school. Connecting veteran- and non-veteran students was a priority during his tenure in the position. Perhaps taking a cue from former red-vested Chancellor Lee Dreyfus, Fager took to wearing a military backpack around campus so that, as reported in a 2016 edition of “The Pointer,” he would be “approachable and easy to find.”

The Veterans Club welcomes civilian participation as well as that of veterans. “The club, according to its bylaws, welcomes anyone who supports veterans,” confirms adviser Barta. "Non-vets bring skill sets the club can benefit from. Conversely, it benefits the non-veterans to work with veterans and understand their experiences.”

Although she is an active member of the Civil Air Patrol, and she has family military connections through her husband and siblings, Barta herself is not a veteran. She got involved with the club after befriending a veteran-student in one of her classes.

“He didn’t have any family in the area, so my husband and I took him under our wing, had him share holidays like Thanksgiving with us,” she recalls.

Word of mouth, office tours and social activities used to be the big draws toward club participation on campus, yet events and person-to-person recruitment efforts have been made difficult this fall because of COVID-19. These days, Cummings says, the group has resorted to holding Zoom meetings between current and prospective club members so that they can interact and “get to know each other and ask questions.”

Navy vet Miranda L. Miranda

Under normal circumstances, the club also recruits members and volunteers alike by setting up a table in the DUC concourse and offering that irresistible college-student lure—free food.

“Originally, I came for the free pizza,” admits junior and Navy vet Miranda L. Miranda when asked why she joined the club.

A graduate of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where she earned a degree in baking and pastry science, Miranda enrolled at UWSP in 2017, and is currently majoring in dietetics. Her appreciation for the Veterans Club is unequivocal.

“At my previous college there was a lounge offered for veterans. It was just a space,” she says. “At UWSP, it’s more than a room. It’s an involved group that offers so much more than I was expecting. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to find the sense of community, support and friendship I’ve experienced.

“I think most of us in this world struggle with a sense of ‘otherness.' Finding any organization that can give you a sense of belonging is beneficial.”

Miranda encourages anyone who is on the fence about joining the Veterans Club to “come and join the family.”


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