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Thursday, July 07, 2022

When U.S. Marine Corps veteran Brett Surles transferred to UF this Fall, he was worried about making friends.

The UF chemical engineering junior came from Pensacola State College, and before that he was deployed twice to Afghanistan. He wanted to find a place on campus where he could connect with people like him.

He said he did at the Collegiate Veterans Success Center.

"I came into the success center, and there was a whole bunch of people that had my same sense of humor," the 25-year-old said.

The center is one of many services that helped UF receive the title of "Military Friendly School" for the first time by Victory Media, a veteran-owned business that determines which universities are military-friendly, said UF’s Associate Dean of Students Anthony DeSantis.

DeSantis said being designated as military-friendly is a goal UF has been working toward for years.

"We have some really centralized services, and I think it’s become more well known," he said.

Surles said he thought UF already had the title when he transferred.

"It came as a shock that we’re celebrating the fact that we just became military-friendly because it always just seemed that way to me," he said.

UF is one of 94 U.S. universities that host the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ VetSuccess on Campus Program, an on-campus representation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that provides educational and career counseling for veterans, DeSantis said.

"Not one person’s being missed by us," he said. "We’re making contact with every veteran when they get here, and that’s really important, that there’s that connection to campus."

Ryan Fake, a UF electrical engineering junior, said the Collegiate Veterans Success Center was a big help when he was experiencing difficulties receiving his Veterans Administration benefits. He was in the Navy from 2006 to 2012.

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He said UF already seemed military-friendly, even before its designation. The Collegiate Veterans Success Center provides tutoring for veterans, and the staff members go out of their way to make connections with students.

"They do their best for us," the 29-year-old said. "I can’t complain."

DeSantis said UF’s goal for Summer 2016 is to provide more veteran-specific orientations. Undergraduate colleges and UF’s Levin College of Law provide these orientations, and he wants to expand to more professional schools.

But for now, he’s just happy the university is finally recognized as military-friendly.

"A lot of our veterans would say we’ve been that way for a while, but now it’s official," he said.

Contact Alexandra Fernandez at afernandez@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @alexmfern

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