Student veterans find wide range of support at GVSU

Student veteran Mathias Mapes-Pearson.
Student veteran Mathias Mapes-Pearson, president of Laker Vets.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

Student veteran Mathias Mapes-Pearson said being part of the Laker Vets community at Grand Valley helped him acclimate to college life and tap into many crucial resources.

Mapes-Pearson is a senior majoring in management information systems; he is also president of the student organization, Laker Vets. He said he chose to attend Grand Valley because of the many veteran-specific resources at the university. There are about 400 military-connected students at GVSU.

“Grand Valley helped me transition from military life to civilian life — from receiving help with the admissions process to registering for classes to understanding the G.I. Bill to navigating resources. It’s pretty unique to receive this kind of support,” he said. 

The Rockford native joined the Marines in 2013 after graduating from high school. He served in security forces and was part of Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team or FAST. He was deployed to Europe, Africa, Spain, Afghanistan and the Ukraine during his five years of service.

“The FAST unit reinforces embassies that feel threatened in their host nation,” he said. “We take over security measures and run security until the ambassador feels the threat is over.” 

After his military service, Mapes-Pearson was looking to earn a degree and, like many other veterans, felt apprehensive about navigating the college experience as an older student.

“Some vets want to stay away; they feel left behind,” he explained. “Many veterans don’t have a solid foundation so extra support is crucial.  

Mathias Mapes-Pearson.
Mathias Mapes-Pearson, president of Laker Vets, said GVSU offers important resources and support to help student veterans acclimate to college life.
Image Credit: Valerie Hendrickson

Grand Valley offers a multitude of programs for student veterans, including the GVSU Veteran Promise, which guarantees enrollment to high school seniors who serve; an accelerated bachelor’s program; a peer mentoring program; a veterans entrepreneurship program; and the Peter Secchia Military and Veterans Program, which expands programming and provides career support, including the transition from military to civilian careers.

Mapes-Pearson said President Philomena V. Mantella understands the unique circumstances students veterans face. “It’s pretty unique to have a leader like President Mantella consistently take the time to meet with us to find out what resources we need,” he said. “She listens and she acts.”

(Mantella calls on colleges to provide better support for veterans.)

Student veterans have two designated spaces at Grand Valley to come together to study, share stories and create friendships.

The Laker Military Resource Center is located in the Kirkhof Center on the Allendale Campus and the Peter Secchia Family Military and Veterans Lounge is located in the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health on the Health Campus in Grand Rapids.

Jill Hinton Wolfe, military and veterans resource manager at Grand Valley, was hired in 2020 to provide additional support to student veterans and expand the university’s partnerships and pipelines in the community. She said the new spaces in Allendale and Grand Rapids allow for an important tradition to continue.

“Community is built into the student military population,” said Hinton Wolfe. “Having spaces in Allendale and downtown provides a way for student veterans and the greater Grand Valley community to continue to establish relationships and support one another.”

Grand Valley consistently receives national recognition for its commitment to veterans. 

In U.S. News & World Report's 2021 Best Colleges rankings, Grand Valley is listed as a Best for Veterans among Midwest universities. GVSU was also named a 2021-22 Military Friendly School; the Military Friendly® ranking recognizes higher education institutions that provide the best opportunities for veterans and their spouses. 

Grand Valley recently earned Gold Status, the highest ranking from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency in its annual ranking of veteran-friendly schools. 

Learn more about the many ways Grand Valley supports veterans at https://www.gvsu.edu/veterans.