Students deploy ‘Military Support Group at SRU’

Barrow and Werkmeister

(From left) Army Capt. Joseph Barrow, Slippery Rock University associate professor of military science, and Kara Werkmeister, a student affairs in higher education graduate student from Pittsburgh, are heading up the new “Military Support Group at SRU.”

March 22, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When a loved one goes off to war, there is plenty of nail-biting back home. Kara Werkmeister, a Slippery Rock University graduate student from Pittsburgh, knows how it feels to worry about someone special. Her boyfriend is serving in the Navy.

Werkmeister and other like-minded students who care about supporting the troops and those on the home front have created "The Military Support Group at Slippery Rock University." The group's slogan summarizes its mission: "Supporting Each Other and Supporting Our Troops."

The student club offers support tailored specifically for military-connected students and any individual serving in the military. Army Capt. Joseph Barrow, SRU assistant professor of military science, serves as faculty adviser. Werkmeister is graduate adviser.

"We all know how hard it is to go to college and also have someone really important be in a dangerous situation," said Werkmeister, a 2014 secondary education graduate. "It is our goal to not only provide the military-connected students at Slippery Rock University a way to connect to fellow students in the club who may be experiencing similar life stressors and challenges, but to let the men and women serving our country know that Slippery Rock University still thinks of them and appreciates their service."

The club's first official event was a March 21 "Craft Night" in the Smith Student Center Ballroom. Thirty club members made "survival bracelets" with Para cord and wrote cards and letters. In April, club members will incorporate these items into care packages that will be shipped to SRU alumni currently serving in the military.

Werkmeister said the goal of the outreach is to send service members "a little piece of home, and a notice that we still think of you here at The Rock."

Some families of service personnel can't afford to send care packages to loved ones overseas, making the SRU project valuable, said Summer Tissue, founder of Military Connections Corporation in Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization that ships care packages to deployed service members.

"I think the formation of the group will be a great resource for Slippery Rock University students," Tissue said. "My brother served as a Marine while I was in college, and there were limited resources as a family member to garner support. Many units have family readiness groups, but if you don't live on or near the military base you are somewhat on your own."

Werkmeister said another intention of the Military Support Group at SRU is to unify students who know someone in ROTC or active duty that don't know where to turn for support. Students do not have to be in the service themselves to get involved.

"You might have a classmate you know who was deployed, it could be your roommate or boyfriend," said Werkmeister, who came up with the idea for the support group but co-credits other students for the launch. "I personally identify as a military-connected student. I have lots of friends who are deployed. I have family who are deployed. I have a boyfriend who went into training where there was no contact for great spans of time, so I started looking for resources because I wanted to talk about it with someone."

The phrase "military-connected student" has become the parlance for college students and the military, she said.

"It's more all-encompassing, and can be used to reference reservists, veterans, boyfriends, girlfriends, classmates or anyone who has any connection," she said. "Honestly, almost everyone you ask knows someone or has some connection to an individual in the military. That's military-connected. It doesn't need to be your mom, your dad, or your husband. It can be your classmate, your neighbor or your friend."

Werkmeister, a student affairs in higher education student who works as graduate resident director for residence life, said the club is "almost like therapy" and that it is cathartic to gather, swap stories and do something positive for the troops.

During the club's first get-acquainted meeting, she said it became apparent that concern for loved ones in the military resonated with many students.

"We had everyone who came stand up and tell his or her story," she said. "That was so moving. It was like, wow, this whole room is filled with people who 'get it.'"

The Military Support Group aims also to support outside charities and military organizations that outreach to soldiers and veterans, including those veterans suffering emotional trauma.

"We've only just begun this semester; hopefully this group will continue to grow in coming years and be able to utilize many different avenues to provide support," Werkmeister said.

Lyric Ackelson, an arts administration and nonprofit leadership major from Butler, said she helped create the group.

"Students who have military connection deserve and need to have a support group for themselves," she said. "My fiancé is an officer in the Marine Corps and my experience with the military has been wonderful. However, while I have been supporting his career over the last year and half there have also been times where I needed support myself and now that this group has formed, I have finally found my place to go."

SRU has been recognized for providing best practices and support for veterans; especially in helping them transition back to civilian life. Victory Media named SRU a 2016 Military Friendly School.

The University operates a Veterans Center, offers an annual Veteran's Day ceremony and shows its reverence for veterans with a "Medal of Honor Room" in the North Hall Welcome Center. The room honors the late Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Estocin, a 1954 SRU graduate who was killed in combat during the Vietnam War.

The University also partners with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to offer equine-assisted recreational therapy to veterans at SRU's Story Harbor Equestrian Center.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 | gordon.ovenshine@sru.edu