As a Marine Corps veteran, it didn’t take long for Charlie Foster to know his college experience was going to be different than almost everybody else.
Foster came to this realization while waiting in a long line with other students to process paperwork on his first day at Berea College in Kentucky in 2006.
“I thought, ‘Everybody else here has a parent with them. Do I look more like a student or a parent?’ When I got to the front, they flipped through my folder and were trying to figure out what to do with it, because it wasn’t the standard that they’d seen,” said Foster, who later earned a Master of Education in Higher Education Administration at William & Mary in 2017.
“That was my cue of just what to expect when I’m working with these offices, for me to be a little bit different, a curveball to what they’re used to.”
Foster, who has served as veteran liaison for the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center at W&M the last three years, is well versed in the challenges of being a full-time student following a career in the armed forces. Now Foster is working hard to make sure the transition to William & Mary is as easy as possible for other military veterans.
Foster, 37, was hired to lead W&M’s new Office of Student Veteran Engagement in the Sadler Center. As the director of the office, which opens Sept. 25, Foster will spearhead the effort to position the university as a leader in military and veteran education.
“With this office, I think we’re right on track with what we should be doing,” Foster said. “William & Mary is surrounded by military installations. William & Mary has a great military history. Our first American chancellor was General George Washington. Our current chancellor is Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense. We have a list of alums who have had outstanding military careers, and we know we have students who are going on from the ROTC program to have outstanding military careers.
“So we are now working to serve veteran students who have finished their outstanding military careers and want the best education available in the world, if you ask me, here at William & Mary. We know that they have different experiences from their peers at W&M, and we just want to help fill in the gap.”
The Office of Student Veteran Engagement was financed as a pilot program through the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. The office will assist veterans in their transition to student life, building on W&M’s existing, award-winning programs for military-affiliated students.
Foster will connect veterans to comprehensive campus resources, including assistance with applications, GI Bill benefits and assistance with internships and employment opportunities.
Foster reports to Drew Stelljes, Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Leadership.
“Charlie has a really good sense of the array of needs, unique challenges, skills, unique experiences and opportunities that our military vets bring to campus,” Stelljes said. “They bring with them a wealth of leadership experience, a professional maturity and life experiences that contribute in the classroom and in our campus community.
“We want to have a centralized space where our military vets who are undergraduates or graduates pursuing terminal degrees have a chance to feel even more a part of the community to create a space where they can access resources but also feel as though they really belong to this campus community.”
In his new role, Foster will carry out the pilot program and assess its impact. The goal is to expand the initiative to full implementation in the Fall of 2021.
William & Mary boasts deep ties to the military and a commitment to supporting veterans. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked it as the 18th best university for veterans nationally. This new office positions W&M to have an even bigger impact with military veteran students.
“William & Mary has a long tradition of honoring and educating soldiers and veterans. Our university is home to top ‘military friendly’ graduate programs and we are located amidst one of the largest military populations in the nation,” William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe said. “The new Center for Student Veteran Engagement gathers together our existing programs for military-affiliated students across the whole institution. Better coordination among these programs will expand their impact, ensuring strong support for veterans as they transition to student life. We are very grateful to the Jessie Ball duPont Fund’s support for W&M to pilot this initiative this year and to the Office of Student Affairs for making this a long-term priority.”
Lawrence Wilkerson, faculty advisor to the Student Military Veterans group, said the establishment of this office grew from the efforts of many people dedicated to serving the nation’s military veterans at W&M.
“It says precisely that President Rowe and her staff are committed to creating a welcoming, productive, and educational space for those who have chosen to give their service to America through the military experience and now want the superb educational experience offered by the nation’s oldest public university,” Wilkerson said. “In many ways, this is a first for the university, to have its leadership so fully committed to the country’s military veterans. Those of us who have been laboring in the trenches for this office are ecstatic that this has happened. We know that the Tribe and all it represents in the fields of public service and exceptional education will only be made better.”
Marine Corps veteran Corey York, a 2019 W&M graduate, championed this office throughout his time as the university’s president of the Student Military Veterans. This is a major step for the university and military veterans, he said.
“It is my hope that this office will redress all the serendipity in the process and help maximize a veteran’s learning and professional earning potential, while simultaneously reducing the civil-military divide and enhancing student veteran visibility and on-campus relations,” York said.