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Coby W. Dillard, Chair, Advising Veterans, Military Students, and Family Members Interest Group

Coby Dillard.jpgWith increasing numbers of student veterans entering the nation’s colleges and universities, it is critical that professionals in higher education understand the unique perspectives and experiences they bring to the campus and that appropriate models to support their academic success are developed.  Today’s student veterans are entering colleges with the stresses of a decade-plus of military conflict, in addition to the stresses that come with transition and readjustment to life as a civilian.

In their work, Education and Identity, Arthur Chickering and Linda Reisser described the use of psychosocial theories in education as “a series of developmental tasks or stages, including qualitative changes in thinking, feeling, behaving, valuing, and relating to others and oneself” (Chickering & Reisser, 1993, p. 2).  Chickering’s vector model examines seven directions in which individuals advance during their educational experiences.  For advisors, faculty, and staff, an understanding of these vectors and their applicability to the student veteran can better inform their work as they seek to serve our nation’s heroes.  How do advisors help guide student veterans through the work of each vector and aid in the successful transition from service member to student veteran?

Developing Competence: moving from low to high levels of intellectual, physical, and interpersonal skills.

As service members transition out of the service into the civilian world, those veterans may experience diminished levels of interpersonal competence and a reluctance to share their experiences.  The reluctance to speak to anyone “who wasn’t in the AOR (Area of Responsbility)” (Lafferty, 2008, p. 9) robs both the student veterans of the therapeutic experience of telling their story, and classmates of the benefits of their perspective.  Advisors can build on the interpersonal deficit, leveraging the strengths of the student veterans’ intellectual and physical abilities as supports for their interpersonal growth.  Advisors can also transition the sense of competence resulting from student veterans’ membership in their former team of fellow service members to an equally strong sense of power in their individual abilities in themselves and their new team of classmates.

Managing Emotions: increasing awareness and acceptance of emotions, improving control and appropriate expression of feelings.

Some student veterans arrive on campus with the repressed anger of seeing their fellow service members killed or wounded in combat.  Student veterans may have unhealed physical and mental wounds and inflated senses of invincibility from surviving attacks that present as inappropriate uses of alcohol and drugs, a willingness to take excessive personal risks, and survivor’s guilt (Kilgore, 2008).  The trauma of broken homes and weakened familial relationships during a career containing multiple deployments can also adversely affect their integration into the classroom and campus community (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 1997).  Advisors can help their students increase awareness of their emotions, provide opportunities for them to share their stories, and teach them to accept their feelings as normal reactions to life’s experiences.  When working with military-related students, advisors can give them opportunities to share their backgrounds in a mutual exchange that both disarms the veteran and forges a sense of respect.  This allows the student to move from unhealthy and inappropriate releases toward the ability to exercise adjustable control in a way that adds depth to their self-expression.

Moving Through Autonomy Toward Interdependence: moving away from needs of continual reassurance and recognizing the necessity and benefits of interdependence.

Often, student veterans seek camaraderie with those students who are still on active duty, other veterans, spouses, or dependents (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 1997).  This disengagement with the larger campus community is not conducive to developing the sense of interdependence they need, especially in roles where their status as veterans delineates them as a minority.  Interdependence cannot exist without a sense of independence: the ability to function outside of the military structure while learning to live with the new realities of physical and mental limitations and a recognition of the student veteran’s place in the campus, community, and global society.  Advisors can find ways to bridge the gaps between student veterans’ emotional and instrumental independence and channel them into a sense of responsibility to their fellow students and the larger society.  Advisors should encourage veterans to reach outside their normal circles and take leadership roles in student organizations that afford them the opportunity to build leadership skills and engage with their campus community.

Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships: developing appreciation of individual differences and a capacity for intimacy.

Student veterans develop interpersonal relationships with their fellow veterans and other service members; the fraternity of duty unites those who have and are currently serving (Lafferty, 2008).  As they transition, they are severed from the relationships they once had and thrown into an environment that views them as an other.  Advisors can help the student veteran redefine their sphere of influence as larger than just those with whom they shared the uniform, helping them to adapt to their new place in a larger society.  Advisors are cognizant of tensions that may arise in their peer and intimate relationships and can encourage resilience with the goal of developing relationships based on equality and genuine caring.

Establishing Identity: developing a sense of self-acceptance and self-esteem in addition to stability and the ability to integrate with others.

As service members transition to veterans, many preexisting and unresolved identity questions can manifest themselves as unhealthy behaviors (Kilgore, 2008).  Advisors can recognize the emerging identities of their student veterans, allowing them to develop their individuality while helping them to identify any unhealthy actions that could adversely affect their academic performance.  They can also assist the student veteran to see and accept the validation from their facilitators and classmates as healthy and learn how to channel that validation into the development of their self-acceptance as civilians.

Developing Purpose: having strong interpersonal and family commitments and clear vocational goals.

Many student veterans face the decision between staying in their military career field or striking out in a new direction while pursuing their education.  Advisors can work to develop and maintain the student veteran’s focus, recognizing their interests and goals and helping them to build their academic plan around those goals.  They can aid the student veteran in properly understanding and evaluating their military experience while keeping the focus on their long-term goals rather than the short-term inconveniences of the educational process.  Assisting some student veterans with varied interests or college credits from their military service, advisors can appropriately discuss and recommend individualized or interdisciplinary study plans that make the best use of the student veteran's previous experiences and educational benefits.

Developing Integrity: maintaining a set of individual values while respecting the beliefs and values of others.

Developing integrity is a process of reviewing personal values in a questioning environment that emphasizes diversity, critical thinking, the use of evidence, and experimentation (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).  The concept of integrity is ingrained in the service member’s mind from their first day of initial training until they leave the service.  Advisors can aid the student veteran in recognizing that the same values exist and are expected of the campus community and that they must honor those values as though they were still in uniform.


Seven out of ten student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill have either earned or are completing a certificate or degree, showing that they are among a highly persistent group of non-traditional students (Cate, Lyon, Schmeling, & Bogue, 2017).  The strengths of the modern student veteran-discipline and self-motivation among them-are best leveraged by advisors who are willing to devote the time necessary to inform and educate their student veterans on the processes of higher education.  By this work, advisors assist in a developmental journey that will aid in the transition from service member to student veteran and ultimately into society and further contributions to the community and nation.

Coby W. Dillard, MA-HSC (USN Veteran)
VERITAS Veterans Resource Liaison
Center for Military and Veterans Education
Tidewater Community College
[email protected]


Cate, C., Lyon, J., Schmeling, J., & Bogue, B. (2017). National veteran education success tracker: A report on the academic success of student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Washington, DC: Student Veterans of America. Retrieved from http://nvest.studentveterans.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NVEST-Report_FINAL.pdf

Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Franscico, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Goodman, J., Schlossberg, K., & Anderson, M. L. (1997). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Kilgore, W. D. (2008). Post-combat invincibility: Violent combat experiences are associated with increasd risk-taking propensity following deployment. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42, 1112-1121.

Lafferty, C. L. (2008). "Did you shoot anyone?" A practioner's guide to combat veteran workplace and classroom integration. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 73(4), 4-18.

Cite this article using APA style as: Dillard, C.W. (2017, September). Chickering’s seven vectors and student veteran development. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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