In the time between graduating from South Park High School and enrolling at Robert Morris University, David Ausman served in the U.S. Marine Corps, including two tours of duty in Somalia.
His transition from the military to civilian life to being a college student turned out to be somewhat overwhelming.
“I couldn’t connect to the fellow students,” he said. “I couldn’t connect to my professors. You’re telling me about the real world? Now, let me tell you about the real world.”
Between classes, he’d relax in a wooded area next to campus.
“I’m an outdoorsman,” Ausman told members of the McMurray Rotary Club. “That’s where I felt comfortable.”
Today, he helps students in similar situations feel comfortable through his position as director of Robert Morris’ Center for Veterans and Military Families, which he discussed as guest speaker at a recent Rotary meeting in Peters Township.
The center’s primary role, he said, is to administer GI Bill benefits for qualifying students. But a main focus is also to provide support services on a variety of levels, including the transitional component.
“They do have some challenges. They often are older than other students, so there’s an age disconnection,” Ausman said. “There’s a disconnection when it comes to life experiences. You have students who maybe just want to party, and the veterans just want to get their degrees.”
Most of the students served by the center live off-campus, and many are married and parents. Some have disabilities in connection with their service in the military.
And many can use guidance when it comes to college-related finances.
“There could be difficulty using benefits or lack of knowledge of how to get benefits,” Ausman said.
Members of his staff help ensure that students receive what they’re entitled to through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides education benefits for those who have served on active duty for 90 or more days after Sept. 10, 2001. Students also may qualify for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon program, which can bridge the gap between what the GI Bill pays and the actual tuition.
“We have students getting up to their doctoral degree completely free, never having to pay us a dime,” Ausman said.
The Center for Veterans and Military Families began a decade ago as a 1,200-square-foot “home away from home” for applicable students. Since then, the center has grown to nearly 5,000 square feet, offering recreational and study areas, a computer lab, conference room and kitchen, all accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Nothing like that existed at Robert Morris, or at practically any other campus, when Ausman attended prior to earning his degree in 2000. He went to work for the university shortly after in the accounting department, and he later served for 10 years as staff adviser to student veterans program.
When longtime director of veterans education and training services director Daniel Rota retired earlier this year, Ausman quickly accepted the offer to succeed him and lead the Center for Veterans and Military Families.
“Now, I have a place to make sure that no other student goes through what I went through,” he said. “My office actually overlooks the woods where I used to sit, so I feel like I’ve come home.”
For more information, visit www.rmu.edu/about/military.