By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Jason Baker understands the challenges veterans face when they transition from military to civilian life.
He served eight years in the U.S. Army, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and three years in the Nebraska Army National Guard before enrolling at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The North Platte native was 35 years old when he arrived on campus in August 2018.
“The transition was very daunting,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Baker completed an associate degree in building construction before enlisting in the Army, but his college experience was much different the second time around.
“It was quite challenging for probably the first year and a half,” said Baker, who had to learn how to balance his coursework with a part-time job and responsibilities as a husband and father.
Now a senior majoring in family science with a criminal justice minor, Baker is taking on a new role to help other veterans and active military members overcome any obstacles that stand between them and a college degree.
As UNK’s first-ever veterans success coach, he works one-on-one with fellow Lopers as an academic mentor and serves as a primary contact who can connect them with other campus resources. The position was created this semester through a partnership between the UNK Learning Commons and Military and Veterans Services.
“Military students are an important part of our campus and we want to eliminate as many barriers as possible during their pursuit of a four-year degree,” said Patrick Hargon, associate director of the Learning Commons.
Hargon called Baker a “point person” for military students, someone who can relate to their situation and provide guidance based on his own experiences.
“Through my work with the Student Veterans Organization on campus, I’ve communicated with a lot of student veterans and military members who are in the same boat I was in when I first came here,” said Baker, who can provide tips on time management and study strategies, direct people to Disability Services for Students if they need classroom accommodations or offer advice on other UNK-related topics.
Baker helped start UNK’s Student Veterans Organization in January 2019, and he currently serves as the alumni chair for the Mortar Board honor society and as a student ambassador for the College of Education’s Department of Counseling, School Psychology and Family Science. He’s also a member of the Alpha Phi Sigma criminal justice honor society and Council on Family Relations student organization.
Lori Skarka, assistant director of Military and Veterans Services, recommended him for the veterans success coach position.
“His experience is a vital link in connecting with our military students and he understands their needs and educational goals,” Skarka said. “He has a well-rounded background in academics, leadership and research and a vast knowledge of the resources available to students, and is an active member of the UNK and Kearney communities.”
“This position directly supports the mission of the Military and Veterans Services Office and I look forward to collaborating with Jason as the first UNK veterans success coach,” Skarka added.
Baker, whose undergraduate research focuses on the issues veterans face in higher education, plans to pursue a career path that allows him to assist veterans and their families.
“We need more people to work with veterans,” he said.
Hargon hopes to see the veterans success coach position continue to evolve, giving military students a campus connection before they even begin classes.