What does a military veteran  look like? Is he the white-haired gentleman in the VFW hat marching in the Veterans Day parade? Or is she the student in jeans sitting next to you, or your kids, in poli-sci? Ann Treadaway wants you to know that he—and she—can be both. Last October, Treadaway assumed the directorship of Rutgers’ widely lauded Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, and one of her priorities is to introduce the Rutgers community to the veterans living and studying within it.

Their number has surged in recent years, from fewer than 500 in 2010 to roughly 2,000 today, thanks in large part to Rutgers’ reputation as a university that actively supports its  student veterans. The office that Treadaway runs, headquartered in a white-pillared house on Lafayette Street at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, coordinates one of the country’s most extensive offerings of services and programs for vets and military personnel. Founded by Stephen Abel, a retired Army colonel, in 2010, the office is dedicated to doing everything necessary to help veterans achieve academic success. As a result, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the office as a center of excellence. And for the sixth straight year, the publication Military Times has ranked Rutgers a top university in its “Best for Vets: Colleges 2016” listings, this year at number five. The survey is based on an assessment of veteran and military student services and rates of academic achievement.

From the left, Grace Perez, William Gardner, Emmanuel Taylor, and Christopher Drummonds


From the left, Grace Perez, William Gardner, Emmanuel Taylor, and Christopher Drummonds display a poster for “Hoodies for the Homeless,” a campaign sponsored by the Veterans House at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Nick Romanenko

Up until his retirement, Abel and his team created a haven for vets at Veterans House. It’s a place where they can meet with academic and financial aid advisers who are cognizant of the specific needs of veterans and the programs open to them. And because mental health issues often carry a stigma among military personnel, the office allows them to receive counseling onsite without the potential discomfort of walking into a counseling center.

“It’s almost a one-stop shop,” says Treadaway. She’s been assisted by Bryan Adams, a Purple Heart recipient, veteran of the Iraq War, and alumnus who’s worked in the office for more than two years, most recently as services coordinator. “It’s an amazing resource where veterans can learn about benefits, find help with paperwork, take advantage of psychological services, and have a location to be with other veterans,” says Adams SBC’12.

Only a relative handful of colleges and universities offer this kind of environment devoted solely to vets and military personnel. “A lot of schools have someone who ‘serves veterans’ so they can check a box,” says Treadaway. “But that person probably wears multiple hats and is probably in an office that isn’t dedicated specifically to assisting veterans.”

Treadaway is an expert in veterans’ affairs. She worked for two years at the Student Vet Center at the City University of New York on Staten Island, followed by three years as its director of veteran support services. She’s also a vet herself, a former specialist in the 130th Engineer Brigade of the United States Army who was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She comes from a military family—her father was in the Navy and her brother in the Army—and she went to college utilizing a GI Bill. “She has a deep appreciation of the types of experiences that our student veterans have undergone,” says Barbara A. Lee, the senior vice president for academic affairs at Rutgers.

As a vet, Treadaway knows how daunting it can be to move from the regimented, hierarchal environment of the military into the relative freedom of college life, where a student might easily wander into a classroom 15 minutes late, still in pajamas, talking on a cell phone. So much of life in the military, says Kimberly Bruss, the office’s veteran coordinator, “is about taking direction, and all of a sudden you’re dealing with Rutgers, which can be an incredibly complicated school to navigate.” The office’s mission is to smooth those potentially roiling waters.

A sense of belonging, Treadaway believes, can make life at Rutgers more comfortable for its student vets. As part of her mission to increase community awareness of the vets on campus, she’s spearheading a public relations campaign called RU Aware? Last November, during Rutgers Veterans Appreciation Month, posters began appearing universitywide bearing the statement “I’m in class with you.” Each poster depicts a student in two guises, one in military uniform, the other in civilian clothes, and lists that student’s military credentials and Rutgers major. The posters are intended to introduce not only vets to their fellow students, but also Veterans House to the vets who aren’t yet aware of its existence.

Treadaway isn’t just concerned about veterans’ academic accomplishments; she also wants to foster their success following graduation. “We work to make sure that they have a strong support network on and off campus and that they find employment after they leave,” she says. To that end, she’s hoping to forge partnerships among current student veterans and the Rutgers alumni community. “I encourage any alumni who are veterans to contact my office,” she says, “because I’d really like to put them in touch with current students.”

The need for support is ongoing. The post-9/11 GI Bill, implemented in 2009, “has made college more accessible for veterans,” says Treadaway, and it’s likely to draw even more of them onto college campuses. When the influx arrives, she and her staff will greet it with continued enthusiasm. “This GI Bill has the opportunity to create the next Greatest Generation,” she says, using the term Tom Brokaw popularized in his ode to the heroism of World War II veterans. “I really believe that.”  

For more information, visit veterans. rutgers.edu.