Education Report
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Education Report

USM Helps Veterans Succeed with Its Mobile Campus App

by Dennis Pierce

For military veterans and family members of active duty personnel who want to earn a college degree, navigating the world of higher education can be quite intimidating. Campus life is very different from the culture of the military, and the application, registration, and financial aid processes aren’t always simple and intuitive.

“Veterans don’t have the aid of a high school counselor to check all the boxes for what needs to be done when applying to college,” says Pastor Michael McGee, veteran outreach coordinator for the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members, and Families at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

USM has created an innovative solution to this challenge: A new mobile campus app helps guide veterans, service members, and their families through these processes, making the transition to campus life as smooth and easy as possible.

USM Eagle Vet

The app — actually a separate persona for veterans, called USM Eagle Vet, that has been added to the main iSouthernMS mobile campus app — helps users understand what education benefits and other aid they qualify for. It guides users through the process of applying to the university and using their military benefits, step by step.

It also includes links to resources that can help make the college experience more enjoyable and affordable for veterans, such as a “Textbooks for Troops” program and the Student Veterans of America organization, so vets can connect with their peers who’ve been through similar experiences.

“We’re trying to help veterans transition back into civilian life,” says Valerie Craig, manager of technology applications and services for USM. “It’s about more than paperwork or taking advantage of monetary benefits. It’s also about pointing them to resources that will help them make this transition successfully.”

These are services the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members, and Families has been providing for several years to the 1,700-plus veterans and other military affiliates who attend USM. However, the mobile campus app brings all of these resources together in the palm of one’s hand, creating a seamless, all-digital experience for veterans. That’s a big change as well.

“We were asking veterans to take a piece of paper across campus and get peoples’ signatures to verify information we could already see electronically,” McGee says. “Now, the app allows them to complete these processes digitally, from one central place on their phone.”

For now, veterans must fill out forms within the app by entering their own personal information in order to satisfy FERPA requirements. However, McGee envisions a day when the university is able to self-populate these forms with information that already exists on veterans from the Defense Department and other sources, making the process even simpler for veterans.

Removing barriers

Craig and her team within USM’s technology department developed the USM Eagle Vet persona after speaking with McGee and others within the center about the needs of veterans.

“We created automated workflows to help walk veterans through the steps they had to follow and make the process less overwhelming for them,” Craig says. “We also created some digital forms that made the experience more efficient.”

Once Craig and her colleagues understood the center’s needs, building the actual USM Eagle Vet persona was a simple process. USM uses Modo Campus as the basis for its iSouthernMS app. Modo is a no-code platform for building, updating, and maintaining a mobile campus app. The platform allows anyone, regardless of their technical ability, to create a highly customized, feature-rich app very quickly.

USM unveiled the Eagle Vet persona in November. That same month, the university broke ground on a new, $2.8 million facility to house the veterans’ center. The 5,200-square-foot Quinlan-Hammond Hall of Honor, named after lead benefactor and USM alumnus Joe Quinlan and the center’s founding director, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, will replace the 1,600-square-foot building the organization was using before.

The mobile campus app will help “remove barriers” for veterans looking to further their education, McGee concludes, noting: “Things that used to take 15 minutes to explain are now only two to three clicks away at most.”

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