Student veterans receive support while navigating COVID-19, honor President Mantella

Cameron Zbikowski, president of the Student Veterans of America chapter on campus, presents President Philomena V. Mantella with a military shadowbox for her commitment to student veterans.
Cameron Zbikowski, president of the Student Veterans of America chapter on campus, presents President Philomena V. Mantella with a military shadowbox for her commitment to student veterans.
Image Credit: Sarah Anderson

Student veteran Cameron Zbikowski served eight years in the Navy, from 2005-2013, including a tour in Iraq. The 2nd Class Petty Officer served at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, the same air base that was recently bombed by Syria.

After his service, Zbikowski decided to further his education at Grand Valley. He said he chose GVSU because of its affordability and "excellent reputation for supporting military students." 

He said he is especially grateful to be a Laker in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Through the CARES Act and hardship grants, Grand Valley has helped student veterans directly impacted by COVID-19, helping them continue their education without the financial stress that has plagued so many due to unemployment and mounting bills," he said.

Zbikowski, one of nearly 400 student veterans on campus, said the university's wide range of support programs helped him transition to college life.

"GVSU has provided not only academic and financial support to me, but also disability and mental health support as well," he said.

Zbikowski said many student veterans have also received assistance with grants through the Joseph Early Emergency Relief Fund, started by the Early family, to honor the Laker veteran who died suddenly in 2016.

A senior, with a double major in international business and human resources management, Zbikowski serves as president of the Student Veterans of America chapter on campus.

This week, chapter members recognized President Philomena V. Mantella for her commitment to student veterans with a gift of a traditional military shadowbox, presented as an honorary expression of gratitude for excellence in service.

"President Mantella has supported Laker vets in a variety of ways," said Zbikowski. "The most important was the creation of the military and veteran resource manager position filled by Jill Hinton Wolfe."

Wolfe, '01, an Army veteran, began her role at Grand Valley in July. As GVSU's first military and veteran resource manager, she provides additional support to military-connected students and dependents while expanding Grand Valley's visibility, partnerships and pipelines within the community.

Wolfe said a number of supportive events are planned that can be held virtually, including an October 7 veterans alumni career panel during which participants will share about their career paths.

"Some student veterans struggle with knowing how to combine their very unique experience in the military with the education they receive from Grand Valley," said Wolfe. "They have these two great elements they can put together for employers."

Wolfe said a presentation is being prepared for women veterans who have suffered military sexual trauma or MST. "This event will focus on what MST is, how it shows up and what options are available for treatment for women with this struggle," she said.

Wolfe said programs like the TRIO Veterans Upward Bound program, Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab, and Military Police Basic Training Program are why Grand Valley consistently receives national recognition for its commitment to veterans.

This week, in U.S. News & World Report's 2021 Best Colleges rankings, Grand Valley is listed as a Best for Veterans among Midwest universities.

In 2019, Grand Valley was again named as a gold level "military friendly" university by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. It's the fifth year the university has achieved that status.  

 

From left: Sarah Anderson, Traci Trainor, President Philomena V. Mantella, Cameron Zbikowski, Jill Wolfe.
From left: Sarah Anderson, Traci Trainor, President Philomena V. Mantella, Cameron Zbikowski, Jill Wolfe.
Image Credit: Aaron Poling
Military Shadowbox.
Image Credit: Sarah Anderson