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  • ROTC students in uniform carry flags and face the Maxcy monument

Honoring sacrifice, supporting success: university champions military-affiliated students

Villardine Goode is all too familiar with balancing competing responsibilities. As a 23-year Army veteran who pursued higher education and started a family while actively serving in the military, she’s well-equipped to address the unique challenges that military-affiliated students face.

That’s why she was eager to step into the role of veteran and military academic success coach with the Department of Veteran and Military Affairs at the University of South Carolina, applying her lived experience to serve prospective students eager to further their educations and better their career outcomes.

“It’s figuring out what they need, asking the right questions, and connecting them with resources to get the answers they need,” says Goode. “I understand the frustrations of trying to get somebody to talk to and help you navigate admissions. Going to school and having a full academic journey as an active-duty soldier is not the same as a traditional student.”

Goode’s role was created in 2022 as part of university leadership’s enhanced commitment to supporting and serving close to 2,300 military-affiliated students, including veterans, military service members and their families and ROTC students.

Most service members or veterans enroll in school as transfer students with multiple college transcripts and joint-service transcripts, which captures military training and courses that can be awarded as degree credit. To add to the situation's complexity, students usually use some form of educational financial assistance, through either tuition assistance V.A. educational benefits, making it difficult to navigate traditional admissions channels. But Goode is prepared to help students cut through the red tape and start their education at a university that will support their needs.

“[Goode’s] role has really transformed how our department and university engages with our military-affiliated student population,” says Jared Evans, executive director of military engagement and veteran initiatives. “When service members or vets express interest in attending USC, she’s their first point of contact and ensures that they have all the information they need to make the best decision and are set up for success at the beginning.”

Drawing on her experiences, Goode not only advises military-affiliated students but has been a champion for initiatives to further improve their educational experiences. One of Goode’s proudest creations is her academic excellence recognition program, which will spotlight high-achieving service members to be presented academic achievement certificates in front of their unit and command.

We need to recognize these students and provide encouragement. We see what they’re doing, and we’re proud of them.

Villardine Goode

It’s something both Goode and Evans know well. Goode completed her bachelor’s in human resources and master’s in leadership and management by squeezing classes into her lunch breaks and evenings. Evans took online classes for a year at Camp Lejeune before completing his bachelor’s degree in sport and entertainment management at USC, later earning his MBA at the Darla Moore School of Business between a full-time job in the athletics apartment, a new baby and another child on the way.

“We need to recognize these students and provide encouragement. We see what they’re doing, and we’re proud of them,” says Goode. “They’re forgoing taking the kids to parties or hanging out on the weekends because they have school, things anybody else would take for granted. It’s a testament to the sacrifices they’re making.”

Goode’s work in preparing military-affiliated students to enter the university and honoring their achievements is an integral piece in of the broad portfolio of initiatives and programs implemented to serve the veteran and military population.

The commitment to serving students expands institution-wide, from the School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic, which saves veterans legal fees and expenses, to the School of Music’s Armed Services Veterans Band Program, which offers veterans music therapy and community-building at any skill level. The recently built Veterans and Military Center of Excellence is another hub of belonging and camaraderie, providing students a place to do homework, borrow professional clothes for interviews, spend time with peers and even just grab a snack from the popcorn machine.

The wide array of opportunities — engaging programming, ever-expanding initiatives, robust academic and social support, and the solid foundation of a passionate and experienced staff — weaves a tapestry of excellence that has consistently earned USC national rankings for its commitment to its military-affiliated student population.

From being recognized for the best Student Veterans Association chapter in the country to receiving the S.C. Department of Veterans Affairs’ first-ever Gold Award to honor South Carolina’s commitment to veteran and military students on campus, the university continues to improve and expand on the outstanding work it does with military-affiliated students.

“Having accessible and flexible programs at USC to support our veteran and military students is so important because, as the flagship university of South Carolina, we have a duty and responsibility to provide opportunities for our students so that they can go on and excel professionally,” says Evans. “We continue to find new ways to engage our veteran and military student population in meaningful ways that support them, both academically and professionally.”

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