Advancing National Service

A Unique Class Helps Vets Find Their Footing in College and Beyond

March 17, 2014
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A Unique Class Helps Vets Find Their Footing in College and Beyond
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A Sacramento professor learns that saving lives can happen anywhere, even in the classroom.

Dealing with someone who is suicidal can have a lasting effect on a person, as Sacramento State professor Beth Erickson learned from one of her students.

When Erickson noticed that the performance of one of her “A” students, a military veteran, started to slip, she talked to him and learned that he was suffering from PTSD. “He was suicidal that day in my office,” she told Nick Janes of CBS Sacramento. She sought help for him through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and eventually, he was able to graduate. Inspired by that upsetting event, Erickson, a professor in the Department of Recreation & Parks and Tourism,  decided that she wanted to help other students who happened to be veterans as well. So she started a class that’s exclusively for ex-servicemembers.

Her “Perspectives on Leisure” class has the sort of title you’d think would only appear on transcripts of students trying to coast by — but the work she’s doing with veterans is real.

The two-semester course is a part of the university’s Veterans Leadership and Mentorship Program. It focuses on writing, outdoor activities, and fostering leadership through student veterans mentoring other student veterans. Erickson told Alan Miller of Sacramento State that it’s “the most amazing course I’ve taught in 13 years…My objective is to help them translate the training and leadership they learned in the service into measurable civilian skills.”

The class includes field trips to connect with nature through whitewater rafting trips and hikes in Yosemite National Park. Erickson invites the students to reflect on their lives and experiences in their writing assignments. Upperclassmen in the course mentor students who’ve just begun their transition from the military to the civilian world to help ease their way.

Coast Guard veteran Sean Johnson, a student in Erickson’s class, said that the veterans-only approach to the course has bolstered him. “I realized these guys are my family now,” he said. “These guys are just as much as family as I had in the military.”

MORE: These Veterans Rallied to Save A Fellow Vet from the Cold

 

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