The number of veteran students at Duke has increased significantly over the last few years, but some say their veteran identity has not differentiated them from other average Duke students.
There are currently 241 veteran students at Duke, said Associate Dean of Students Clay Adams—compared to 35 in 2009, as reported by Duke Today. The majority of veteran students are enrolled in the Fuqua School of Business, and there are significantly more veteran graduate students than undergraduates. Although veterans say they are well-supported at Duke, they do not feel that their experience is significantly different from that of other students.
"We're here as students just like everyone else," said Luis Spradley, a first-year MBA/MPP candidate who served as a security officer in the Marine Corps for four years. "It's an honor to be able to attend a school like Duke with our peers."
Both Spradley and Paul Escajadillo—a first-year MBA student at Fuqua who served seven years in the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command—said they were drawn to Duke because of the community atmosphere, as well as the opportunity for leadership.
“The community aspect of Duke as a whole really led me to come here,” said Spradley, who is co-president of the Duke Armed Forces Association.
Escajadillo said that although he feels well represented in the "Fuqua bubble," his position as Fuqua representative to the Graduate and Professional Student Council lead him to realize that not all students share his experience.
“I look at the number of 241 [enrolled veterans]…. I do feel that we’re underrepresented in Duke as a whole,” he said.
Of the 241 enrolled veterans, two are undergraduate students, and 79 are first-year students in either the graduate or undergraduate schools, Adams said.
Adams further noted that the information on veteran enrollment might not be accurate, as some veterans choose not to be identified.
Veterans can self-identify during the application process or by utilizing federal benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill or Yellow Ribbon Program.
“Between the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon, I don’t have to pay tuition,” Spradley said.
Veterans may have a set of unique experiences upon entering graduate school, but Spradley said that it gives them a different perspective in the same way that people of all backgrounds bring new ideas.
“A veteran is a label, and I think what people should be able to do is look beyond that," Escajadillo added. "We’re human beings, we have different personalities, different dreams and by putting on the label ‘veteran,’ and trying to put us into one mass, I think you do us a disservice."
Duke is well-positioned to attract even more veterans over the next few years as ground forces are brought back to the United States, Escajadillo said.
Spradley noted that Fuqua might attract more veterans because of the nature of the program and its emphasis on consequential leadership, which he says is important to many veterans.
He added Duke can attract a higher caliber of veterans because of the extensive financial aid offered.
The University also supports its veterans through five different affinity-based organizations, listserv communication and networking.
Escajadillo, who serves on the Veterans Advisory Committee, is spearheading an initiative to allow veterans from all graduate schools and Trinity College to enter a raffle to win a gift card intended for textbook purchase. The program had been successful at his alma mater, San Diego State University, in assisting veterans, active duty military and military spouses in paying for dues not covered by traditional scholarships.
Escajadillo said that he felt supported at Fuqua, particularly in terms of future employment and networking opportunities. He said that every veteran in the business school has an internship in place for the summer, and all graduating Fuqua veterans are secure in their employment for next year.
Spradley said the strong veteran network within Fuqua could be improved by expanding to the other graduate and professional schools.
“There may be someone in another graduate school who would be able to benefit from that net or we would be able to benefit from connecting with them,” Spradley said.
Escajadillo noted that all students stand to gain from the presence of veterans on campus.
"Reaching out to a veteran, if there's one in your class—that will be an incredible experience for anyone," he said.