Kansas State University and U. S. Army Fort Riley renewed their partnership for the fourth year in 2013. This agreement strengthens the ties that military students have to civilian life and makes K-State one of the most military inclusive universities in the country. The partnership advocates a “whole-of-university” approach with nine specific categories: connection and stewardship of military alumni, military student success, outreach programs, cultural events, athletics and arts programs, military community relations, scholarship, military research, and support for faculty and teaching staff.
Land-grant universities such as K-State were formed under the Morrill Act which established industrial and agricultural colleges. Before the bill was made into law it was amended to include military sciences. There are 27,000 military service members within 90 miles of K-State and approximately 12% of the student population is connected to the military. The Department of Military Affairs set a goal to make Fort Riley, only a fifteen-minute drive from K-State, the best place for returning Army soldiers by 2020. K-State is already home to the ROTC unit partnered with Fort Riley called the “Wildcat Battalion.” The Office of Veterans Affairs on campus helps military personnel understand and apply for benefits in order to attend college. Together along with private donors, they bridge the gap between civilian student life and military service.
“The professional military is a very closed and unique culture. They start to lose connections to civil society,” said Art DeGroat, Director of Military Affairs at K-State. “Their worldview is different than your average 20 year old. You can’t just stick them in a room.”
Military Affairs works to keep military students in school by anchoring them to campus while encouraging their civilian socialization through attendance at events and membership in student clubs. The university and Fort Riley see this as a “challenge of mutual interest:” both want to keep students enrolled and active in the campus community. Military students are encouraged to take advantage of the free counseling sessions and tutoring available to all students. They may also receive special discounts to basketball games in Ahearn Field House or shows at McCain Auditorium. When called into active duty, military students’ fees for dropping courses are waived.
“Everything the university does, from alumni relations, student groups, scholarships, outreach, research… Everything K-State does for the student family, we do for the military family,” says DeGroat.
Military students are giving back. Blue Key senior honorary and its freshman counterpart, Quest, visit Fort Riley every year to better understand their fellow students. The combat aviation brigade hosted an open house for faculty and staff. Visitors were welcome to climb into the helicopters, try the training simulations, watch an equipment drill, and meet soldiers who live on base. They play friendly matches against the K-State men’s rugby team, and invited all 52 members to visit the base and observe a typical day for a soldier. The new skating rink in K-State’s Peters Recreation Center has already caught the interest of the inline hockey team, and they plan on breaking it in with the help of Fort Riley soldiers. They are encouraged to enjoy the nightlife in Aggieville with new friends or visit Tuttle Creek.
One donor explains that he continues to fund the program because DeGroat and assistant professor, Patrick Johnson, showed him the extra work the military students were putting in to raise money for basic events.
“[Pat] would tell me about the students cleaning the stadium after night games until 4 a.m. to raise enough money to go to the Ranger Challenge or the Bataan Military March. They were working long hours while other kids were out having fun,” said Brett Allison, who along with his wife Candi has given close to $2 million to various military science program projects. “Some kids were working third-shift jobs to pay for college and dragging in the next day. We would rather have those kids in classrooms learning for when they start to lead others into battle.”
Allison’s donations helped renovate the student lounge in the military science building with new televisions, computers, and furniture. He also contributed to the remodeling of “The Pit”, a basement training facility located in the basement of the ROTC building on campus. He and others sponsor the Fort Riley Day cookout and color guard operations.
On October 17, K-State Military Affairs will partner with the Manhattan Military Relations Committee and the Institute for Health and Security of Military Families to sponsor a military author to speak about his new book. David Finkel will answer questions about his most recent novel about military socialization, “Thank You For Your Service.” Finkel received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” to complete this companion to his first book, “The Good Soldiers,” the subjects of which have returned from their tours and are now reintegrating into society. More events are scheduled for later in the year.