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Military-focused degrees, support programs foster military-friendly experience for CSU students

April 3, 2023

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Beyond academics and college affordability, Columbus State University provides a wide variety of programs and services to help current and former military members acclimate to university life. Collectively, these programs are integral to the university’s consistent recognition as a institution. The program’s most recent 2023-24 rankings find Columbus State as the 8th military-friendly “small public” university in the nation.

“Part of our job is to support our military-affiliated students, find out what their needs are and help them transition from their military service to the classroom and student activities—then to transition again to well-meaning jobs,” said Bill Huff, a Columbus native, former Marine captain and a Vietnam veteran who co-chairs Columbus State’s Military Affiliated Student Advisory Committee (MASAC) along with Pete Jones. Jones is a retired brigadier general, president and COO of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.

The focus on the successful transition from the military to the academic environment includes special orientation programs at the start of each semester, as well as a vibrant Student Veterans Association with its own activities that build community. CSU’s newest military-focused program is the Veteran Peer Mentor Program, introduced in Spring 2022 with the goal of making the transition from serving in the military to studying in the college classroom less daunting.

“Veterans usually have a very tough time transitioning from the military to the civilian-student world because it can be intimidating,” said Jacob Bolar, a U.S. Air Force veteran who, before graduating in December 2022 with a computer science degree, was a veteran peer mentor. “They go from a life of being told what to do every minute of the day, having to adhere to strict standards, and being ready for anything 24/7, to being completely on their own and with no structured guidance.”

Christopher Villanueva, a specialist/E-4 in the Georgia Army National Guard, was one of those service members who was somewhat reluctant about returning to the classroom as an adult learner.

“I was a little hesitant at first about going back to college, just because I would be much older than the other students and I haven't been in school for a long time,” the Columbus, Georgia, native and accounting major said. “However, thanks to the individuals in the Veteran Peer Mentoring Program, I was assured that I was not alone in this journey. They helped introduce me to other veterans like me who are new to CSU, and others who have already gone before me. While most of us are of different ages and different branches of service, we still have the integrity to help out a fellow service member in need.”

The peer mentor group has a special relationship with the CSU Counseling Center, whereby an active-duty service member who specializes in counseling veterans is specifically available to support former soldiers with PTSD. Any student-veteran can sign up for an appointment.

Lovell also indicated that programs like this provide the structure student-veterans say they noticeably lack after their transfer to college life compared to their previous military environment. That, along with increased student-veteran retention rates, underscores the overall satisfaction student-veterans and their dependents experience at CSU and contributes to the university’s various military-friendly campus ratings by several external ranking organizations.

“We’re constantly working with military enrollment and university leaders to increase the visibility of and access to services for military-affiliated students,” Huff explained. “Many of them say that college life can make them feel like a fish out of water. They’re married, they have families, and they have lived through experiences in the military to which traditional college students cannot relate. They need a place and programs that are theirs and available to them.”

Lovell also credits Columbus State’s ongoing Green Zone program as fostering a military-friendly environment for the university’s military-affiliated learners. She and her team seek to help faculty and staff better understand military-affiliated students’ needs and train their coworkers on how to address and handle those needs as they arise while better connecting military-affiliated students with academic, tutoring, advising and financial support available at CSU.

“Seeing Green Zone stickers on campus everywhere I turn is like a huge welcome sign for veterans like me when I enter an office for guidance,” said veteran Thomas Callow, a sophomore from Mauk, Georgia, currently majoring in criminal justice. “It signals to me that this staff member or professor cares enough to go above and beyond what’s required to understand the life of an active-duty student, veteran-learner or military family member.”

Multiple Academic Pathways

Columbus State offers multiple academic pathways for active-duty soldiers to help them advance in their military careers or begin their transition to civilian life.

The Army Green to Gold Program, in partnership with the CSU ROTC “Cougar Battalion,” provides enlisted soldiers an opportunity to pursue an officer commission. Green to Gold soldiers like SFC Brandon Sinecoff, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, can work toward either a bachelor’s or graduate degree while participating in the ROTC leadership program.

“Attaining a degree in general and commissioning as an Army officer will definitely provide me numerous opportunities for improvement and the graduate-level education I wouldn't have had access to on the enlisted side,” Sinecoff explained. “My [interdisciplinary studies] degree was more or less created to accommodate my military education on my Joint Service Transcripts as college credit toward my degree. CSU’s Military Affairs Office and the VA have also helped me tremendously with figuring out my G.I. Bill and getting my payments for school squared away.”

Columbus State’s close proximity to Fort Benning offers a unique benefit for active-duty soldiers completing the U.S. Army’s 22-week Maneuver Captain's Career Course (MCCC or MC3). CSU provides pre-approved graduate transfer credit for MCCC graduates. By combining that transfer credit with three prescribed, three-hour courses, MCCC graduates can go on to earn a master's in public administration or a master of science in organizational leadership.

“Even seven years after I graduated from CSU’s organizational leadership program, the lessons I learned remain relevant to and the foundation of my career,” said Maj. Gabriel Koshinsky ’16, who followed up the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course with a master’s in organizational leadership from Columbus State. “The [MSOL] program helped to develop my self-awareness and critical thinking to become a better leader, peer-leader and follower. CSU provides the essential opportunity at a critical point in an officer’s career to forge warrior scholars.”

High school students interested in combining their college studies with military service can do so through the Army ROTC program. While earning a degree, ROTC cadets can acquire hands-on military training that directly leads to a commission as a second lieutenant in the active-duty Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard. As an elective, it adds a few extra hours a week to an academic schedule but provides extensive leadership development, education and experience. Fully qualified students may also be eligible for ROTC scholarships and other forms of financial support.

Flexible Degree Options

As Sinecoff indicated, the university’s recently introduced interdisciplinary studies bachelor’s degree has been especially appealing to military students and others who have acquired college credits at a number of institutions—or who want the flexibility to customize their degree focus. 

Rather than a prescribed, discipline-specific program of study, this degree allows students to create a customized plan of study tailored to their professional goals by connecting courses from multiple disciplines to create a custom degree. It’s also helpful for students with a variety of credits or a partially completed degree by allowing them to refashion their prior academic experience into a degree focused on their academic and career goals.

Outside the interdisciplinary studies and other traditional four-year degrees, Columbus State offers a variety of certificates, nexus and associate degree options. These programs—ranging from 20 to 60 hours—are designed to position active-duty soldiers to promote in their military careers, and for civilian family members and retiring soldiers to deepen or advance in their current professions or begin a new career. On top of that, these options fit within a one- to two-year assignment for students who may be subject to moving before completing a four-year in-person degree.

There are, however, fully online education options from which to choose, varying from certificates and endorsements to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Although some have in-state residency requirements, most allow students to start their studies online, while allowing others to switch from in-person to online instruction when duty calls.

In addition to academic programs, Columbus State also offers a wide range of continuing and professional education programs for active-duty, retired and transitioning military members and their family members. Many of these industry-recognized certificates are available at no cost through ArmyIgnited credentialing assistance or with post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. 

“Our programs are ideal for our active-duty who are looking to add a specialized credential or boost their subject-matter expertise quickly,” said Samantha Gurski, director of CSU’s Continuing and Professional Education. “For soon-to-be-retirees, veterans, and military spouses, our certificate programs and professional development courses provide a launching pad for a civilian job in their current area of specialty or an entirely new career.”

Connecting with Columbus State

The educational needs of military personnel, veterans, and adult learners can differ greatly from those of traditional students. CSU offers a suite of resources designed exclusively for adult students and military personnel. For more information about the resources CSU provides, visit the Office of Military Enrollment website.

Media contact:
Michael Tullier, APR, Executive Director of Strategic Communication + Marketing, 706.507.8729,  

You might also be interested in:
Columbus State ranked 8th nationally as military-friendly school for its size (March 26, 2023, Columbus State University News)

Related news coverage:
Army veteran retires and takes on a mission in the classroom (Nov. 8, 2023, WRBL-TV)