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UM Student Veterans Association reaches new heights

Ole Miss’ football game against South Carolina featured what was the crowning achievement for the University of Mississippi’s Student Veterans Association so far.

Veteran and Military Services Assistant Director Andrew Newby and head football coach Matt Luke, with 60,000 fans looking on, were able to give 13-year-old Benjamin Clark an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World.

This act was a noble one for the university, as Clark’s B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is in remission, and doing it as the new assistant director of a growing program was also a bold task.

“We began planning, and it was literally 11 months of planning and execution,” Newby said. “We had these five areas, that are all different, that we had to prepare for with one person in veteran military services, three people in athletics, and three people in ROTC.”

Being able to pull it off was an enormous accomplishment for Newby. Partially because when Newby came to Oxford in August of 2017, his job didn’t exist.

From the ground up, Newby has built one of the most successful student veterans programs in not only the state of Mississippi, but also in the entire nation.

According to collegefactual.com, UM is rated as the top school for veterans in the state of Mississippi and 88th in the nation. Previously UM was not ranked nationally.

The reason why UM’s program has achieved so much, is because Newby gets to “roll out the red carpet” and try and create opportunities for the 1,400 student veterans enrolled.

A way the program can provide an immediate impact is by breaking down the war-loving stereotype that veterans carry.

“We’ve got writers, we’ve got painters, we’ve got thinkers, we’ve got musicians,” Newby said.

“What we get to do in my office is elevate that and bring that to the forefront … We’re changing that culture.”

As Newby described, UM’s student veterans association works with the whole person, instead of a singular identity of a veteran, and put student veterans in front of faculty members of their desired field to help veterans figure out how to be successful.

The program also focuses on bringing the student veterans together into a bigger group, instead of joining into smaller groups with other veterans and not completely integrating back into campus life.

The challenge with that, however, comes when a veteran tries to integrate him or herself back into civilian life. Newby, a member of the Marines Corps, knows this struggle first hand.

“It’s a huge culture shock,” Newby said. “You go from, in the military, the structure of knowing exactly where you stand, day-to-day in every facet of your life.”

UM’s program combats that culture shock by having physicians in Oxford, which can work with Veteran Affairs (VA) physicians and provide medicine locally, instead of requiring veterans to travel to one of the nearest VA offices in Tupelo, Jackson or Memphis to receive their medication.

While the support UM can offer student veterans is already being recognized on the state level, Newby said he wants the school to be one of the top schools in the nation for veterans.

And those kinds of aspirations include building on the foundation Newby has created. This includes planning to top what the Student Veterans Association did for Benjamin Clark, which Newby has already started planning for.

“What are you doing right now in school,” Newby said. “That’s what matters, because you’re here to get a degree, and to go be successful in the job market you’re going into.”