IJF supports and uplifts our member organizations, and this includes highlighting the important and innovative work they are doing every day. We will be profiling member organizations on our blog through an ongoing series. We hope to inspire conversation and connection between member organizations, the communities they serve, and anyone else who is passionate about ensuring no veteran, service member or a family member falls through the cracks.
Lewis University is a non-profit Catholic University located in Romeoville. More than 553 Lewis University students are Active Duty, Reserve, Cadet, and Family Members using G.I. Bill benefits or Veterans. Many of the students of Lewis University participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Funded through Lewis University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, this program provides 100 percent of student tuition expenses if they have 100 percent level of Post 9/11 entitlement. We recently spoke with Director of Veterans Affairs and Recruitment at Lewis University, Roman Ortega Jr., about how he works with student veterans to ensure success.
Tell us a little about yourself
I have been in the service for 18 years, served about 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Army and 7 in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Half of my time was in the infantry, and the other half was in military intelligence. I did deployment overseas in multiple capacities ranging from combat to humanitarian aid.
I got my master’s degree at Lewis University while on active duty in the U.S. Army.
What is your philosophy behind how you provide services to students?
I try to focus on a wraparound service model: Social, Academic, Financial, Community, and Career. Many veterans transitioning out of the military want to go to school and then move back into careers. We have a team of 11 of us that strive to do the best in providing support during a potentially challenging transition.
What does wrap-around service model mean?
We help them with the most fundamental questions regarding admission and application process, we assist them to get registered, we enable access to benefits while in school. We also provide support through a student veteran group and a Vet Ally program which helps faculty and staff support veteran students. Then we empower them with employment opportunities to make sure they are set up for success upon graduation.
Can you tell us about any advantages student veterans have?
On average, student veterans tend to have a slightly higher graduation rate than civilians at Lewis. They tend to do well academically and in leadership roles at the University. The retention and persistence rate at Lewis University is over 80 percent for our student veterans, which is well above the national average for higher education. Their loan and debt rate are also very low which means they are graduating with less financial burden.
What about any unique challenges student veterans face?
We have student veterans who have families. They are typically married. They often have a part-time job or full-time job. They have got a lot to balance. They are very cognizant of their time, and what they are going to do with that time. Sometimes this equates to less participation in campus activities comparatively speaking to the traditional student. That is the biggest challenge.