Veteran Student Association led by commitment to serve and give back

After being wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Richard Copple found himself being taken care of in a hospital in Germany.

Richard Copple is president of the student organization Veteran Student Association on campus. Photo courtesy of Copple.

“I got wounded on April 6, 2007–Good Friday,” Copple said. “Girl scouts at the army base came and gave everybody Easter baskets. The Wounded Warrior Project had backpacks and they gave everybody essentials like toothpaste…shaving kits.”

Copple added that the hospital staff was great in checking on him and it was the best care he ever had.

“I couldn’t imagine what it could be like not to have that kind of care when wounded,” Copple said. “Because it felt so good to be treated that level of respect, I wanted to do that same thing to make other people feel good.”

Today, Copple is a junior English major and president of the Veteran Student Association on campus.

With more than 40 members strong, Copple credited his club officers, also core members: Tanner Ridings, Shannon Parker and Austin Carey who helped in recruiting more members.

Criminal justice professor Trish Oberweis along with Lt. Col.David Motes, a military science professor, serve as club advisors.

Oberweis said she is extremely proud of them and the work that they’ve done.

“Their commitment is strong-the students that stepped up,” Oberweis said. “They’re an impressive, selfless [and] dedicated group of students and it takes a lot of time. I’m very excited for them. They’re trying to leave SIUE better than they found it.”

Last May, Oberweis sent out an email inquiring of anyone interested in joining a student-run veterans club.

According to Copple, he and a handful of others responded, and it has grown since, slowly.

“Dr. Oberweis really helped out and got me to give introductions to her classes,” Copple said. “Mr. Kevin Wathen, coordinator of Veterans Affairs at SIUE, helped out a lot getting more of the members.”

According to Oberweis, she mentored student and veteran, Matthew Bradford, a criminal justice major who graduated last year.

“He came to my office and asked for research experience,” Oberweis said. “Together we decided to focus on military veterans.”

Bradford, according to Oberweis, was aware of issues and deeply personally invested in outcomes related to the cause.

Oberweis said he spent a semester studying best practices, websites and literature across the country on how other universities were serving their veteran populations.

As a result of his research, they administered a survey on campus and found out that student veterans wanted to help volunteer, and, according to Oberweis, Copple stepped up right away along with three other students.

“Rick Copple was glad to accept,” Oberweis said. “More and more people joined.”

According to Oberweis, she hopes more people can join on Facebook and that alumni–a network of graduates– can mentor and provide professional opportunities for student veterans.

With the club, Oberweis said she envisions peer-to-peer mentoring, dedicated staff members to support student veterans and resources to help them with career planning.

She added that through the survey, they learned that support in the form of benefits advising, academic advising and social support would be useful as well.

Physical and mental health services would be helpful through a sort of Veteran Resource Center, according to Oberweis.

Copple said his short term goal for the club has already been accomplished: getting the committees running.

Oberweis said they aim to launch in fall 2015 an orientation for all new students who are veterans.

“We’re trying to figure out structurally how to do it,” Oberweis said.

According to Copple, Oberweis was not a normal choice for advisor for their veterans group.

“But because she started this group…,”according to Copple, “and helped and her husband is a veteran, I would say that we’re all really loyal to her and she has done a good job of keeping us all on track.”

Copple has written about his veteran experiences and according to he, one of his stories he wrote, a memoir of basic training, “Cold Steel,” has been selected for publication in the 2015 River Bluff Review.

Copple would like to teach creative writing at universities in the future.

For more information about join the organization follow the link:

On Facebook, the group can be found under the name, SIUE Student Veterans Association.

In addition, for more information on Veterans Services on campus visit

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