Leaders at the University of Tennessee say they have recorded a sharp increase over the last five years in the number of military veterans joining the student ranks.

“Our enrollment (is up) 20, to 30, 50, to (now) 100 student veterans this year alone,” said Jayetta Rogers who serves as the Veteran Student Services Coordinator on campus.

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The university reports close to 500 student veterans are using benefits, but more than 900 students are using Veterans Administration benefits, which can include dependents or spouses.

Military veterans working on their college degree can now take advantage of an expanded Veterans Resource Center that sits on the first floor of Hodges Library.

“We want them to come in and hang out with other student veterans, meet another student veteran who has the same major as you. You may find out you served in the same branch and that bridges that gap and makes those connections with those students that retains our student population,” said Rogers, who has spent the last five years in her post.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the classroom,” said 30-year-old Navy veteran Jordan Harris.

University of Tennessee student and Navy veteran Jordan Harris. Courtesy: Jordan Harris
University of Tennessee student and Navy veteran Jordan Harris. Courtesy: Jordan Harris

In his freshman philosophy classes, the veteran of two combat deployments is trying to find common ground with classmates fresh out of high school.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s fun. I kind of look at it as, I think symbiotic that way. I learn from them and they learn from me,” said Harris, who spent six years in the Navy.

Rachel Danneker made the decision to come to UT without even one visit to campus. One of her commanders, who earned a degree from Big Orange, spoke so highly of his time on campus she made the leap.

“I definitely got cold feet when I first got here wondering if this is really what I wanted to do, but now that I’m settled in, everything is a lot more comfortable for me,” said the Pennsylvania native. She is in the ROTC program, and after earning a degree, hopes to return to the Army as a military intelligence officer.

University of Tennessee student Rachel Danneker. Courtesy: Rachel Danneker
University of Tennessee student Rachel Danneker. Courtesy: Rachel Danneker

She has found a camaraderie at UT that’s not unlike the esprit de corps she has lived as a soldier.

“If there is a class that I’m struggling with they’ll find another cadet to help me out with that,” said Danneker, who was also the focus of this promotional film produced by the university welcoming students to campus.

In addition to her on camera interview about transitioning from “Army life” to “college life,” Danneker answered the following 10 questions about how her military service has shaped life.

1. What one person influenced you most in life?

"My mother is my biggest influence in my life."

2. Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country?

"Yes, absolutely, especially at such a young age."

3. How can people thank you for your service?

"There is no thanks necessary. I was just doing what I feel is right."

4. How do you honor your fellow service men and women?

"I look for the opportunity to thank them as well. To recognize their good works."

5. How do you think this generation of military men and women is different or similar to yours?

"I'm still part of the new generation of the military."

6. What influence did your military service have on the rest of your life?

"My military service has influenced me to go back to school. It still encourages me to be a part of something greater than myself."

7. Does your family have a history of military service?

"Yes. I have several relatives that served, along with a brother who is still serving."

8. Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the service?

"Absolutely. It is a great choice to serve our nation."

9. How has your opinion of war changed?

"I see it more as a stepping stone now. Something that everyone must go through."

10. How did your military experience shape your faith?

"My military experience has brought me so much closer to God and restored a healthy relationship within the faith."