The University of Wyoming Student Veterans Center could soon have a new home, and its leaders are seeking financial assistance to help get them there.
The Student Veterans Center is currently located on the second floor of Knight Hall. For some of the UW student veterans, it’s a critical part of the college experience, said Marty Martinez , senior project coordinator at the UW Veterans Services Center.
“If you ask any of our veterans, especially those that use the center, the sense of community is very important here,” he said. “For a veteran to come here and spend the first one, two, three semesters struggling to fit in somewhere, many times they’ll walk into our center and say, ‘Wow, I feel at home here.’”
But with the current facility, the program can only accommodate 15-18 of the roughly 650 student veterans currently on campus at any given time, Martinez said. For the last several years, Martinez and his colleagues have been searching for a new home that would help them achieve their mission of supporting student veterans on campus more effectively, he said.
“If we can start to make this center more vibrant, open and inviting, our hope, and my belief, is more of our veterans will start to come here earlier on,” Martinez said. “Maybe we can start the support and providing resources that will keep them in school.”
Plans are currently underway to move the Student Veteran Service Center from its 660-square-foot facility amid business offices to a 2,100-square-foot facility on the third floor of the Wyoming Union. There, Martinez said the environment would better serve those who’ve served.
“It’s going to make our school more successful in working with our veteran community,” he said. “I think it’s going to put UW on the map.”
The space they plan to move into would need significant renovations to meet Martinez’s vision, he said. In order to make that possible, donations are being accepted through the UW Foundation, said Katrina McGee, director of Foundation development.
“There’s a major foundation in the state whose goal is to fund veteran associated projects,” she said. “They’ve had a long relationship with the university through funding veteran scholarships.”
Since the Veterans Services Center opened in 2010, the Marna M. Kuehne Foundation has been “very generous,” McGee said. When conversations started about wanting to renovate the space to better serve UW’s student veterans, she said the Kuehne Foundation signed on right away to fund the project.
“They provided about half the funding we need for the project, and we are currently in conversations with other donors around the state of Wyoming, both individuals and some foundations,” McGee said.
The cost of the renovation comes in about $500,000, McGee said. Along with the Kuehne foundation gift of $250,000, another anonymous donor pledged a $100,000 match when contributions reach that level. With another gift of $25,000 already on the books, she said the project is right on its way to meeting its goal.
“If we can find $100,000 in match donations, we’ll be right at that $500,000 mark to complete the facility renovation,” McGee said.
A total fundraising goal includes another $1 million to be put in an endowment that would go toward programming and maintaining the new facility, Martinez said.
Plans for the new center include mostly glass walls, because some veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder function better in open environments, Martinez said. A private counseling center is also planned with an outside entrance. An “internet café” style computer space, group and private study space, an office for meetings, high tech devices, as well as a break room are all included.
Martinez said he expects word about the new facility to travel through veteran communities and generate interest in UW.
“I’ve been to a lot of different conferences, and there are not many places in the country that have anything near this magnitude,” he said. “It’s not the biggest one I’ve heard of, but it is the biggest one in this area. I’ll be very proud of this center when it’s completed.”
Student veterans in universities across the nation come from a very different background than their civilian peers, Martinez said. Often times, he said they have trouble adjusting to the environment and finding a place they fit in. The Student Veterans Center makes that transition easier to cope with and sometimes makes the difference between success and failure, he said.
“When they do come here, we need to have the resources in place so we’re ready to receive them and give them the specialized service in this community,” Martinez said. “I think it will make this community more successful.”
Contact McGee at 766-4266 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make a contribution.