November 2009 Issue
It’s easy to see why John Schupp is revered by his students. A part-time lecturer in general chemistry at Cleveland State University, Schupp knows how mind-boggling his subject can be. Which is why he readily gives his home phone number to students and encourages them to contact him with questions — even if it’s one in the morning.
It was a late-night phone call in 2006 that put Schupp on the mission now garnering nationwide attention. The student had fought in Kosovo. As she described how difficult it had been adjusting to college life,
Schupp wondered if his pupil was an anomaly or if her problem was widespread.
Much to his dismay, he discovered that her uncertainty was all too common: Less than 8 percent of veterans entitled to college tuition through the G.I. Bill use funds allocated to them.
When Schupp spoke to Vietnam vets for perspective, the reason became clear: Many veterans cannot concentrate when placed in a classroom full of civilians.
“In this present day of urban warfare overseas,” Schupp explains, “the military are trained not to trust civilians because they can kill you. It’s no wonder they have trouble fitting in.”
The answer, the educator decided, was to help vets slowly and comfortably transition to university life. To make that happen, he created the SERV (Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran) program. For one semester, veterans take up to 12 credits of courses on the CSU campus, apart from civilian students. Before each class begins, they’re encouraged to engage in 15 minutes of informal discussion about their military experience. It’s a time, Schupp
explains, that’s psychologically cathartic because “they can recount what happened to them in Tikrit, Fallujah, Baghdad … and then class begins.”
“It’s easy to talk about the past,” Schupp adds, “when you are immediately distracted by your future.”
During their second semester, they’re encouraged to take three credit hours with students who are not veterans. “As they gain more confidence,” says
Schupp, “veterans realize that they can handle the civilian world.”
Since it began last year, 279 veterans have enrolled in the program. Other colleges –– including West Virginia University and the University of Arizona –– have taken notice, and Schupp has become a featured speaker at support groups for veterans and their families.
“My whole goal,” he says, “is to help this generation of veterans be the next Greatest Generation.” For information about SERV, call 216/875-9996 or e-mail