UAA recognized as gold-level Military Friendly School

by Michelle Saport  |   

UAA's Military and Veteran Student Services (MVSS) staff in their office in the Student Union. From left: Kriss Miles, Alexander Casanova, Jonathon Sanders, Theresa Montalvo, Yesi Calizo and Kayleigh Davis.
UAA's Military and Veteran Student Services staff in their office in the Student Union. From left: Kriss Miles, Military & Veteran Benefits Specialist Alexander Casanova, Interim Program Director Jonathon Sanders, Military & Veteran Benefits Specialist Theresa Montalvo, Yesi Calizo and Kayleigh Davis. (Photo by James Evans / University of 鶹 Anchorage)

UAA has been named a Military Friendly School for the 16th consecutive year, achieving gold status for the second year in a row. The rankings evaluate colleges and universities for their investments in serving military and veteran students according to several factors, with student retention, graduation and job placement rates making up 60% of the total score.

"The gold status, only our second time earning this recognition, speaks to the resiliency and progress displayed by our military-connected students; UAA could not earn this award without their amazing efforts. For UAA as an institution, it speaks to our continued commitment and dedication to military-connected students," said Jonathon Sanders, Ph.D., interim director of Military and Veteran Student Services (MVSS) at UAA and U.S. Army veteran.

Supporting student success

MVSS aspires to be the premier education resource for all UAA student veterans, active-duty military personnel and their dependents — approximately 11% of the student body. With a resource center on UAA's Anchorage campus and two student success centers on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), the MVSS staff proactively address potential barriers for military-connected students by sharing information and resources as well as leveraging partnerships. 

In addition to one-on-one support, MVSS sends a monthly newsletter with information on GI Bill benefits, veterans employment opportunities and additional resources. The office also maintains an extensive inventory of checklists to help students navigate UAA and use their earned federal education benefits.

For Yesi Calizo, a marketing major and U.S. Air Force Space Command veteran, connecting with MVSS's benefits specialists helped her uncover another source to pay for school.

"I was worried that I wasn't going to have enough [Chapter 33] benefits to cover the cost of my tuition. Speaking with the staff there, I realized that I could apply for Chapter 31 to cover the costs. I wouldn't have to worry about it or start paying out of pocket or anything like that. It was another benefit that was available to me that I had no idea I could use," said Calizo, who also credits the office's many checklists with contributing to her academic success.

"There are checklists everywhere for students, so it's easy for me to just go, 'OK, is this checklist done?' And then I'm set for the semester," said Calizo.

UAA flag, military baseball hats, photo of UAA veteran on deployment with Seawolf flag, and 303rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron certificate on display in the Military and Veteran Student Services (MVSS) office in the Student Union.
Memorabilia on display in UAA's Military and Veteran Student Services office in the Student Union. (Photo by James Evans / 鶹)

Creating a military-friendly culture

Partnerships across the university are key to MVSS' mission to support military-connected students.

"Every department at UAA, not just MVSS, serves military-connected students in some capacity," noted Sanders. "People at UAA have a lot of buy-in and understanding of the needs and the ways they can help within the scope of their departments and their responsibilities."

To help foster a military-friendly culture at UAA, MVSS offers an hourlong Seawolf Boot Camp training for faculty, staff and student groups. 

"I am a firm believer that education should increase our understanding. Anyone can rattle off a statistic, but it is far more useful to our community if we are better understood. Veterans are not a monolith, we have a shared experience, but we are all unique individuals. Signing up for our Seawolf Boot Camp is a great way to learn about military and veteran culture and better understand the nuances of this population," said Sanders.

Last summer, the office partnered with New Student Orientation to host UAA's first military-connected orientation session. Almost 100 new students signed up for the session, learning about resources and benefits and meeting one-on-one with MVSS team members. Thanks to its success, MVSS plans to offer the session every summer moving forward.

The office also supports the Student Veterans of America (SVA) at UAA student club, another key resource. Club president Josh Nagy, electrical engineering major and U.S. Navy veteran, joined the club last year to make a difference and get involved. He cites helping other veterans navigate the process as one of his most rewarding experiences with the group.

"It's a little challenging and a lot of unknowns initially. Hopefully, I can use my experience to make sure that other veterans don't stumble or have many issues," said Nagy.

UAA student veterans Josh Nagy, Jason Sheetz and Kriss Miles study in the UAA Spine.
UAA student veterans Josh Nagy, Jason Sheetz and Kriss Miles study in the UAA Spine. (Photo by James Evans / 鶹)

Removing barriers for military-connected students

UAA's proximity to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson opens more opportunities for programming. MVSS' reach on base extends beyond just UAA students. Outreach through JBER's education centers allows MVSS to offer courses on base as well as advise service members and those transitioning out of the military on next steps and educational pathways.

In addition, MVSS operates a testing center on JBER that's open to service members, dependents and contractors — regardless of whether they're a UAA student — allowing them to work toward a degree while on active duty, test out of general education courses or become certified within a specific field. Nearly 500 people have taken tests at the center since it opened in April 2023. The center recently secured an expansion, with plans to launch Federal Aviation Administration testing later this year. MVSS' on-base presence is just one way it's working to remove barriers for students.

"Nearly two-thirds of all military-connected students are going to be first-generation college students," said Sanders. "They simply don't know what they don't know, and it's through no fault of their own. Anything that we can do to remove these barriers and share this institutional knowledge is a great opportunity for us and for them."

For more information about resources for military-connected students, visit the Military and Veteran Student Services website.

"UAA recognized as gold-level Military Friendly School" is licensed under a .