Veteran guides former military members toward academic success

Veteran guides former military members toward academic success

Veteran guides former military members toward academic success
October 07
20:01 2017

Surrounded by glistening military medals and framed photos of success, Charles Hall sank down in the office futon ready to drop out.

To the student veteran, the reason was obvious.

After serving 26 years in the U.S. Navy, Hall returned to a college he didn’t recognize. Class discussions and projects were online now. Students were a generation younger than him.

Everything was familiar, yet drastically different.

“It was a culture shock,” Hall said. “In the military, you work directly with people. College has changed so much from when I originally tried to do it, and that was the reason I was considering dropping out.”

Enter UNT’s director of Student Veteran Services — Jim Davenport.

Davenport, who served for 21 years in the U.S. Army, has led the student veterans department for three years. Davenport has made it a point to give student veterans the support they need, something he says he never fully got when he left the military.

“When I got out of military for the first time in my life, I was 39,” Davenport said. “I didn’t have to answer to anyone. And that’s a strange feeling.”

Davenport graduated from UNT in 2011. While he was a student, he hoped to change the veteran affairs section one day.

At the time, UNT’s student veteran office was nonexistent. Once Davenport was hired, he worked with higher-ups to create a place for incoming students where his door would always be open.

“It’s hard transition to go from military to academia because it’s two different worlds,” Davenport said. “It’s going to be stressful.”

Hall is just one of numerous student veterans who have walked through his open door.

“He got me set up with a tutor with the math lab and was consistently running people towards me to ensure that I was successful,” Hall said. “So it’s been instrumental in the reason why I’m still around.”

Once he became director, Davenport began making significant changes. He expanded the Student Veterans Association to more than 110 students and revived Omega Delta Sigma, the veteran fraternity.

Pins that Jim Davenport has earned throughout his journey line his desk. Victoria Nguyen

“The Student Veterans Association was on life support every semester,” Davenport said. “We’ve gotten it where every semester we’ve got a better group of people taking over.”

He ushered in a well-functioning computer lab and equally functioning peer mentors.

“When someone walks into this office and I’m [not there], the answer shouldn’t be ‘I don’t know’ or ‘come back later,’” Davenport said. “I should have people who can work.”

Davenport also gives personalized campus tours to student veterans in order to guide them through the difficult transition.

On a typical four hour tour, he takes students to the library and stops by the Special Collections exhibit. They tour the Union and check out the memorial plaques on the third floor.

He said he even tries to convince them to go back to the military if that is the best possible option for them.

“If I did 98 tours and five people enrolled, I would quit,” Davenport said. “But when you’ve got people coming back and saying, ‘I’m here because this guy gave me a tour and made me feel important,’ that’s different.”

Once his service was over, Davenport said there was no one who would help him find a job or simply adjust back to civilian life. Implementing these programs is his way of offering options he wishes he had been offered in the past.

“When you have people come in here at their lowest point and you’re able to help them and they walk out feeling better, that’s rewarding,” Davenport said.

Jimmy Marquez, the president of SVA, said he first met Davenport when he attended orientation in August 2015.

“His orientation brief was thorough and concise,” Marquez said. “You could easily tell he cared for veteran students and would do anything for them.”

But when Marquez started school in 2015, he wanted nothing to do with veteran programs or groups.

“I did everything in my power to not be a part of the UNT veteran community,” Marquez said. “I wanted to transition into civilian life on my own.”

Roughly a year later, Marquez came into the office and was instantly approached by Davenport.

“He shook my hand and was enthusiastic with his conversation towards me — just like he did a year prior at orientation,” Marquez said. “It was then that I thought, ‘I should probably get to know this man.’”

Now, Marquez leads the SVA — thanks to Davenport.

“I went from wanting nothing to do with the military or veterans to running the only student veteran organization on campus,” Marquez said. “I attribute a good portion of my 180 [degree change] to Mr. Davenport.”

Perhaps the biggest attribution has been Davenport’s ability to create a solidified community where student veterans can meet and support each other.

“Veteran Student Affairs sections are critical,” Hall said. “They keep people motivated, [and] they help you conquer your concerns. I still wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this office right here.”

Featured Image: Jim Davenport works at the Student Veteran Services. His kindness has influenced other students to come to UNT. Jim is also a history major and loves to travel. Victoria Nguyen

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Amy Roh

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