The origin of the challenge coin in the military is a mystery, with the earliest stories dating back to the Roman Empire rewarding soldiers with small coins or medallions to recognize their wartime achievements and enhance morale. Their origin may be unknown, but their underlying significance to the University of Central Arkansas is no mystery.
“Challenge coins represent the commitment that UCA is making to its veterans and to the community,” said Kim Klotz ’06, ’13, designer of the UCA challenge coins. “They are a symbol of our understanding and respect for veterans and all of the hard work that they’ve put in over their years here at UCA, not only working toward their education but for their service to their country.”
UCA is home to approximately 700 student veterans, and David Williams ’12, Veteran Service coordinator and chair of the Veterans Day Committee, is dedicated to making sure that each of those students is taken care of during their time on campus.
“My job is to make sure that everybody who walks through
my office door knows everything there is to know about all the possible educational benefits that they can get as a student veteran,” said Williams. “I love my job and I love what I do. I love being able to take care of veteran students and their dependents.”
UCA student veterans receive a challenge coin at graduation, and the coins are also given out to veterans at UCA’s annual Veterans Day Celebration, which is in conjunction with the city of Conway. Klotz, who has been involved with the UCA Veterans Day Celebration since 2009, said some of the veterans who attend are UCA alumni, but a lot are not.
“This is one way UCA recognizes the dedication and service of the veterans in our community, as well as on our campus,” said Klotz. “David and his team have been really instrumental in giving out these challenge coins because he feels like the veterans deserve something to recognize their dedication and service, in everything they give and all they do for our community through their service.”
Service can take a toll on a student veteran, and that’s where the Student Veteran Resource Center (SVRC) can help. Located on the second floor of Old Main, the SVRC strives to create a sense of community by providing spaces where veterans can be themselves and share their common experiences both regarding their service and their transition.
Dr. Chris Craun, supervisor of the SVRC, helps student service members with questions regarding health benefits, transcripts, disability or housing and finance issues.
“We provide a veterans’ lounge area, a computer area and some small offices that are often utilized for veteran services,” said Dr. Craun. “There are several veteran work-study students available almost every weekday to help answer veteran questions concerning community resources, paperwork or UCA policies, as well as make people feel welcome.”
The Student Veterans of America (SVA) is a student organization that is part of the SVRC. UCA student Joe Franks is the president of the SVA chapter on campus, and he plans service projects and social activities aimed specifically at student veterans.
“We want to help veterans in our community, and also have a place where veterans can hang out,” said Franks. “We can help in finding veterans other benefits that can be used. For those in the guard and the reserves, if they have to deploy, we have a support system here.”
Life on campus is different for someone trying to fit back into society, said Williams. He and director of Professional Development and Training Charlotte Strickland hold a training class called “Understanding ‘Military’ in an Educational Setting” to help faculty and staff understand the different needs of students who are or were service members and how to assist them.
“One of the things we talk about is staying focused while in a classroom setting and how that differs from a military setting,” said Williams. “Student service members may become triggered and may walk out of a classroom. They have to learn how to cope once they are no longer in the military. All of the resources here at UCA are here to help guide them back into civilian life.”
“We have experiences and issues that others would not be empathetic to. Others would not understand,” said Franks. “We are an organization where we can tell stories of our past and others understand. Not just the bad stories, but the good ones too.”
Other student resources available to student veterans include the Counseling Center, which provides mental health counseling and screenings, and the Tutoring Center, which provides tutoring services, study areas, treadmill desks and computer labs and printers in the Torreyson Library.
“David is one of our biggest resources on campus,” Klotz said. “He goes above and beyond; it’s beyond a job for him. He’s here early mornings, late nights and on holidays. This is his calling. This is his passion. But there are people all across campus and in our community, in all kinds of stations, who have served our country. The challenge coin is just a physical representation of gratitude for what these veterans have given.”