By: Katie Auwaerter | Features Editor
Those who have served our country are receiving some well-deserved recognition on Duquesne’s campus with a new Veterans Lounge, located in Liebermann Hall room 702.
Don Accamando is the military programs director in the School of Leadership and Professional Advancement, which gives non-traditional students the opportunity to pursue their education alongside their responsibilities such as work and family commitments. According to Accamando, Duquesne has roughly 345 veteran students. With online and weekend classes available, the campaign to encourage veterans to attend Duquesne began in 2003, but the idea of a space dedicated to these students didn’t come into fruition until 2011.
“A year after I came [to Duquesne], I asked Dean Bassett, the Dean of the School of Leadership, if there was a way I could use a space that had been vacated…by people who had left,” Accamando said. “And she said, ‘certainly you can use that space and put it to good use.’ And that was the beginning of the idea of a place for veterans to go.”
When the school of leadership and professional advancement moved from Rockwell to Libermann, the Veterans Lounge was able to expand from a tiny office to a facility with a couch and conference table, as well as a computer station and refrigerator with snacks and refreshments.
While having a space like this may not seem important to the average student, Ann Martin, academic adviser to the veteran students, explains that the lounge means a great deal to the veteran community.
“Having a separate Veterans Lounge indicates to our veteran students that they are important,” Martin said. “It is away from the hubbub of the main school. Veterans tend to like to have a place that’s quiet to go, especially those who have served overseas. It’s a nice quiet place away from their normal life where they can concentrate and focus.”
Conrad Slyder, a 13-year army veteran and recruiter for the National Guard, decided to go back and get his bachelor’s degree at Duquesne. As a recruiter, Slyder works with the ROTC programs at Pittsburgh schools such as Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University.
Through his work at the other universities, he explains that the lounge is just the first step in veterans’ services at Duquesne. Eventually, he hopes to see the lounge grow into a full-fledged veterans’ assistance center, complete with post-traumatic stress counselors.
“Duquesne is behind the times when it comes to veterans’ offices,” Slyder said. “There are all these things on Duquesne that are just kind of tucked away that need a central nexus.”
Thanks to veteran grant and benefit programs such as the Yellow Ribbon program, GI Bill and other veterans tuition-assistance programs, more veterans are able to afford returning to school. Veterans can receive financial assistance through their branch, position and duration of service. Since cost is less of a problem, it’s important for Duquesne to be conducive to veterans in order to draw these future students to attend, Martin explained.
“They’re very interested in coming to a school that has such a good reputation and receiving a degree from an outstanding university,” Martin said. “So, now that they are able to afford it, if we can now increase the military friendliness to include all of the University, I really see this as an opportunity for Duquesne to draw a lot of future veteran students.”
With more veterans going back to school, Accamando foresees the veterans’ community growing at Duquesne in the coming years, and believes the lounge will assist these students in their educational careers.
“I think certainly having this opportunity now that they’ve done their time, to go to school and earn their degree and continue to contribute to this great country that they’ve fought for is a good thing,” Accamando said. “So I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of a new generation of Duquesne students coming here and this small piece of turf will help them establish a beginning to make good contributions down the road.”
The veterans’ lounge will be having an opening ceremony during homecoming weekend, Oct. 3 to Oct. 5.