“But graduates, you can’t stop serving once you leave here. Whether you’ve worn our country’s uniform or not, we’re all called to serve and to give back to those around us. And you don’t have to travel across the globe or even across the country to find ways to serve. All you have to do is take a look around your own community.”
-Michelle Obama during the 2013 EKU commencement address
New Ways of Thinking About Veterans
In 2010, EKU launched Veterans Studies, the first academic program of its kind in the country. The program’s founders, Dr. Travis Martin and Dr. Brett Morris, decided that the discipline should provide “an academic minor/certificate program that prepares students to identify and understand the often unique experiences and challenges faced by veterans of military service.”
Martin’s goal for the program involved “exploring the institutional, relational, and cultural dimensions of the military/veteran culture through the study of war literature, history, and psycho/social experiences” (Craig 102). In other words, VTS students learn to understand the structures and hierarchies that allow the military institution to function; they examine the ways veterans interact within veteran sub-cultures and greater society; they analyze, discuss, and critique cultural representations of veterans in literature, artwork and the mainstream media.
As an academic discipline, Veterans Studies is applicable not only to the military/veteran community but also to students who are not part of that population. One goal of Veterans Studies’ formation at EKU was to “[introduce] non-veterans to military service, [allow] veterans to contextualize their experience, and bring both groups together in scholarly analysis of those issues relevant to veterans of different generations” (Coleman).
Since its origins, Veterans Studies at EKU has conferred many minors, certificates and focused Associate of General Studies degrees. Veterans Studies faculty members are active scholar-professors with strong records of publications and conference presentations that complement the VTS curriculum. Using Martin’s original definitions as a starting point, University of Missouri-St. Louis Professor Jim Craig offers this definition of the field: “Veterans Studies is an emerging, inherently multidisciplinary academic field devoted to developing a clearer understanding of veterans and the veteran experience in the past, the present, and the future.”
The formation of Veterans Studies represents a larger campus attitude toward serving veterans at EKU that has brought many distinguished visitors to campus, including a 2010 invited visit by Gen. Eric Shinseki, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and a 2013 requested visit by then-First Lady Michelle Obama, who was greatly impressed with EKU’s commitment to helping student veterans.
According to Lira and Chandresekar (2020), “As of 2017, programs of veterans studies exist at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSTL), and SUNY/Empire State College (SUNY/ESC). A robust program of research currently exists at the University of Utah and Syracuse University, and its focus is primarily on applied research.” Additionally, a number of schools have begun offering graduate certifications focused within particular career paths. Veterans Studies is growing!
EKU’s Veterans Studies faculty and have consistently worked with other institutions, collaborated on programs, and participated in the growth of this exciting new field. We’ve certainly benefitted from ideas and encouragement from leaders in military communities and colleagues in academic circles alike. Veterans Studies scholars all share a desire to shape public discourse and lay the groundwork for the academic study of veterans for generations to come.
In 2021, Veterans Studies at EKU evolved into what we now call the Kentucky Center for Veterans Studies (KCVS). The Veterans Studies academic program was infused with co-curricular development, service learning opportunities and additional professionalization components. KCVS is particularly focused on preparing students for careers providing services to veterans in a variety of fields.
There are many reasons – personal and professional – to take Veterans Studies courses. Each semester, our students come together and use KCVS as a way to conduct research and launch outreach initiatives. We learn by doing. And we’re proud to say, “EKU’s Veterans Studies students are making a difference!”
KCVS graduates leave EKU equipped to serve veterans wherever they go. EKU supports them on their journeys and we are confident in the knowledge and skills they carry. Become part of this vibrant community. Declare a minor or university-level certificate in Veterans Studies at EKU today.
To read more about the foundation of Veterans Studies at EKU, check out these resources: