Demond Mullins, assistant professor of sociology, understands from personal experience the challenge veterans face as they return to civilian life.
Mullins left active duty as an Army sergeant and combat veteran of Iraq in 2005. Three months later, he was in a New York City college classroom.
“I felt very confused at times and out of place,” he said. “I didn’t connect well with people who were my own age or other students.” He credits the “good will and care” of his professors for keeping him in school to earn his degrees.
Those experiences are central to Mullins’s current work. IUP hired him last year to be part of a faculty research group focusing on how military veterans are being reintegrated into civilian and college life, at IUP and beyond. Group members, representing various departments, mainly in the humanities and social sciences, come up with ideas for research projects, and the entire group helps to develop them.
A faculty research group is devoted to studying how veterans are being reintegrated into civilian and college life. Sociology’s Demond Mullins, a combat veteran of Iraq, is among the members.
A project Mullins describes as his “baby” examines community outdoor recreation programs that facilitate trips and activities for veterans, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, and ice climbing.
“One of the problems our reintegrating veterans experience is you develop these very intense relationships with people while you’re in service, and then at the end of your service, all of you are spread back out across the nation to your respective homes, and so you lose that support group, you lose that network,” he said. The outdoor programs aim to build new networks for veterans and reinstate their sense of self.
As a military veteran and a mountaineer, Mullins is very close to his subject. That’s where the larger faculty group comes into play. One member asked how self-determination and autonomy, something veterans didn’t have in the military, would factor into the project—in other words, their ability to back out of a task.
Mullins questioned what effect this would have on his research. Then, when one of the recreational groups went on a training climb of Denali in Alaska, one of the veterans did exactly that.
“He spent thousands of dollars, shipped everything there, got to the base of the mountain, basically looked at it, and called his fiancée and said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to do this one.’”
Mullins was shocked. “Especially from my background—doing really extreme things and not really having a choice as to whether or not I was going to actually complete them—that was something that I wouldn’t even have thought of,” he said. “But now it’s a huge part of the project.”
In addition to projects Mullins described as addressing the group’s “lofty research goals,” the group has projects in place that tie directly to the university, such as examining use of IUP’s new Military Resource Center and how veterans view the quality of the services the center provides.
The Veterans Outreach Group, an advisory board that supports the MRC, also has plans to measure the center’s value by tracking the academic progress and graduation rates of the student-veterans the center assists.
Indeed, those assessments may determine the center’s future. It is funded with a $100,000 grant through June 2015, along with about $36,000 in VA funds for work-study pay for students staffing the center.
Rhonda Luckey, IUP’s vice president for Student Affairs, said a very measurable, outcomes-oriented assessment plan was built into the Military Resource Center, and evidence-based data could validate that the center is worthy of being permanently funded.
The new Military Resource Center is one of several initiatives helping students make a successful transition from military to campus life.
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