For veterans, stepping on to a college campus for the first time can feel like navigating a foreign country. Victoria Pridemore, the George Washington University’s new associate director of military and veteran student services, remembers her discomfort.
“I find that there are actually quite a few parallels between international students and student veterans,” Ms. Pridemore said. “It’s a different culture, a different lifestyle.”
After serving for four years in the U.S. Army, including a deployment in Iraq, Ms. Pridemore enrolled in classes at Virginia Tech in 2005. She took a year off from school and returned to Iraq just two years later. Once back at college, Ms. Pridemore stacked up on biochemistry, anatomy and organic chemistry courses in order to graduate from her nutrition program as quickly as possible.
Bouncing back and forth between military and civilian life was challenging, she said. But her struggles are not unique among veterans.
“A lot of students go straight from active duty to college, like I did,” Ms. Pridemore said. “Undergraduates are much older than their peers. Some of them haven’t seen a classroom in 10 or 15 years. Many of them were in positions of authority in the military, and now they’re not.”
In her new role leading GW’s Office of Military and Veteran Student Services, Ms. Pridemore will aim to ease the transition from solider to student.
The office’s associate director oversees administrative processes, such as processing payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as student support services and programming.
Ms. Pridemore will also serve as an advocate for GW’s student veteran population and a first-line responder for students who are having financial, family or academic crises. She will be able to point them to other resources and staff members on campus, such as Roger Deason, GW’s VetSuccess on Campus counselor, and Sarah Skelton, the University Counseling Center’s new staff clinician and veteran services coordinator.
Before coming to GW, Ms. Pridemore volunteered at Veterans Innovation in Washington, D.C., where she worked with different communities to develop programs that fit the needs of returning veterans typically 20 to 30 years old. She originally accepted the position as a “placeholder job” and intended to apply to graduate school after one year. But Ms. Pridemore soon fell in love with her work and decided to devote her career to helping veterans readjust to civilian life.
“I found out that this was the area that I had a passion for,” Ms. Pridemore said.
She then accepted a position at Excelsior, a non-profit online college based in Albany, N.Y., in veteran outreach and partnership development.
In spring 2013, Vice Admiral (retired) Mel Williams, associate provost for military and veterans affairs, hired Ms. Pridemore as GW’s VALOR ambassador for online programs. Adm. Williams said Ms. Pridemore’s experience as a veteran, a military spouse as well as a graduate student at GW has prepared her to lead the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services. Ms. Pridemore also serves in the Virginia Army National Guard as a Platoon Sergeant for the 29th Infantry Division in Fort Belvoir, Va.
“We are pleased to have Victoria lead the office. She brings superb leadership qualities and experience to this position,” Adm. Williams said.
Ms. Pridemore maintains close ties to the veteran and military community in Washington, D.C., and said she will be able to leverage her connections to create partnerships and increase programming for veteran and military students at GW.
The past six months she has spent at the university has allowed her to get to know student veterans and to learn the needs of the community.
One of Ms. Pridemore’s first priorities as associate director will be working with the GW Veterans to establish a “symbiotic relationship” between her office and the student organization. While her new office and the organization have similar missions, Ms. Pridemore recognizes that GW Veterans is independent. Rather than assessing the needs of the GW Veterans, she hopes that its members can help her identify the priorities of GW’s student veteran population as a whole.
“My role is really at the student level. I want to make sure the university is meeting the students’ needs first and foremost,” Ms. Pridemore said. “Most of the veterans who are coming to GW are very driven, very high achievers, and they want to give their all to everything they do. Sometimes they find the balance is harder than expected, and I’d like to help them succeed.”