The author interviews Sam Smith, national president of Omega Delta Sigma.
Omega Delta Sigma is a nationally recognized, co-ed veterans fraternity. Involvement is the best way to help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom. Socialization, campus activities, recreation, leadership, service opportunities, and engagement in academic activities with peers are just a few enablers to a successful academic career. This philosophy also holds true for student veterans.
However, student veterans are also accustomed to a former lifestyle of intense pressure, regimented routine, goal orientation, and a disciplined combat mindset. Living in underclassmen dorms with younger, less disciplined, and in many cases irresponsible students is seldom appealing to these former warriors, to say the least. In some cases this mix can be a trigger.
This cultural disconnect often keeps student veterans from getting involved with their student peers and taking full advantage of all that the collegiate experience has to offer. Finding ways to connect this group of students to the university community both in and out of the classroom can be, and often is, a challenge.
Omega Delta Sigma operates under this creed: professionals, scholars, warriors. The fraternity was founded at the University of Florida in 1999 as a way for veterans to come together, share experiences, and meet other veterans. Since its founding, Omega Delta Sigma has established a number of other chapters located across the United States, in Florida, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Nevada, California, and Massachusetts. It continues the expansion of its university network.
Omega Delta Sigma provides help to the chapter’s local communities and proceeds to such organizations as Wounded Warrior Project, Support Our Troops, and Toys for Tots. Each chapter also engages in their own type of philanthropy events in their communities throughout the year.
All service members, whether or not they have seen combat, face a major transition when they return from military to civilian and/or college life. Particular issues may include:
- Alienation: Military members are returning from an intense and close community built on common experience. They can feel alienated in the university environment, where people may not understand the difficulties military members faced or the challenges they endured. In addition, some service members who are returning to college after military service will be older than many other new students and have different priorities.
- Family/relationships: Veterans return home to families who have had to learn to make due with their absence. The transition can involve difficult adjustments for all involved, including the children of military members—some of whom are students at the university. It is important to remember that, because the lives of these returning service members touch so many, the impact of their transition home will be widely felt in their communities.
- Education: Many of the issues veterans will face are common to nontraditional students. They may be returning to school after years away and are consequently forced to relearn their academic habits and skills. Veterans may have an additional adjustment to make; because the routines of military life are regimented, veterans may more easily become frustrated by the less-structured academic life. While in the military, these veterans may have made life-or-death decisions, and now their decisions only impact keeping up with class assignments. Some veterans may feel their responsibilities as a student are less important or significant, which may lead to a lack of effort or involvement.
From the moment a veteran enters their initial military training, they are conditioned to pursue short-, mid-, and long-range goals, and to chart their progress using milestones and objectives. Each veteran may use their own metric, but at the end of the day, all utilize the same principles. Having a mission is extremely important to the student veteran. If an activity doesn’t seem to fit within the mission of pursuing their academic goal, it is often ignored.
The challenge for veterans is to help their fellow classmates to understand that, although they may not see immediate relevance in some activity/event participation, they can see a longer-range impact in areas of personal and professional development, relationship building, networking, and community building.
Omega Delta Sigma has three well-defined goals to assist and support the veteran student:
- To facilitate the transition from military life to collegiate life for servicemen and women, and to provide a network of contacts for him or her.
- Provide support within the fraternity by encouraging members to assist each other with collegiate, personal, and/or financial difficulties.
- Offer services to those who bravely sacrificed their body and life so that we may live free.
Being a member of a student organization can be an important factor in the success and enjoyment of the university experience. While academic learning is the primary goal of university, extracurricular activities help students learn and grow beyond the walls of the classroom and can provide the student with valuable hands-on training to better prepare them for a future career.
Participation in student organizations offers student veterans opportunities for fellowship, leadership, recreation, and meaningful interaction with faculty, staff, and students. The good friends and times encountered by being actively involved on campus can help transform what is sometimes perceived as a large and overwhelming institution into a place a student can call home.
If you want to know more about Omega Delta Sigma, visit their webpage.
(All images courtesy of Omega Delta Sigma)