New Veterans Services Director Creating Community for Student Veterans
November 5, 2023
Community is very important to the University of Northern Colorado’s new director of Veterans Services LaChaune DuHart-Wood, because she has experienced the benefits that come from feeling that sense of belonging first-hand: from the Black community, the veteran community and even her online gaming community, just to name a few. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, a city often associated with high poverty rates that have been estimated at three times the national average, DuHart-Wood grew up with hardships that most people have not had to endure, so she often leaned into her support systems.
“I like to always tell people that if you come from a community that is definitely as hard as mine was and you don’t know you’re that poor, then that is a special connection you have with your community,” DuHart-Wood said.
The U.S. Army veteran joined UNC this fall and is determined to foster an environment that helps the university’s approximately 220 student veterans find that same sense of community and support at UNC.
Call to Serve
Duhart-Wood always wanted to join the military. Although she comes from a long line of family who have served, her decision broke with tradition because she’s the first female in her family to follow that path.
“I definitely wanted to join [the military] not only to better myself but to be representative,” DuHart-Wood said. “Every picture I saw in the military was just masculine. There was no spectrum to what was being put out in the Detroit Public School System.”
Going into the military at a young age, DuHart-Wood has a lot to show for it. Her military career spanned from active duty to the U.S. Army Reserves. She was stationed all over the country and the world, including places such as Hawaii, Guam, Texas, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and eventually Fort Carson, Colorado.
After being discharged from the military for medical reasons, DuHart-Wood attended Pike’s Peak State College for an associate degree in Social Work. She then continued her studies at Colorado State University, Pueblo to earn a bachelor’s in Social Work and Sociology. During this period, she became a Veterans Affairs (VA) school certifying official so she could certify student VA benefits.
“I liked working in those low-paced roles. Coming from the military, everything was high paced,” DuHart-Wood said. “I was a very young NCO (non-commission officer), so I do enjoy the slow pace of how I came into academia, and that’s through research interests and through working as a transition and support coordinator for Metropolitan State University (MSU).”
DuHart-Wood pursued a master’s degree in social work at MSU while working as a coordinator there. She realized that is where her passion lies – mentoring veterans while they transition from active duty to civilian life. She eventually became the assistant director of Veteran Recruitment and Outreach. The time spent in all these positions helped her prepare for her current position at UNC.
“Being here, I don’t feel restricted to hide any identity,” DuHart-Wood said. “I love coming to a work area where I can breathe and make decisions that are better for veterans and people using veteran’s benefits.”
She also did a work study position at the VA hospital, where she learned through experience that even with the VA being federally funded, employees were paid less than the state minimum wage. The university offers better benefits for veteran students.
“At this university, we help our students,” DuHart-Wood said. “We do something very unique to where students don’t have to suffer from that [equity] gap, and they created a whole new workspace.”
Veterans Services is located in Roudebush Cottage on campus and provides a range of services from VA health to VA benefits. As the new director, DuHart-Wood sits down with students to help them apply for benefits, access online counseling and connect with VA education resources. She actively keeps up with new benefits and keeps resources handy for students when they need it since most students who use the benefits are often the dependent or a child of a veteran. DuHart-Wood also plans and caters events for veterans and students who are dependents since she believes the center is for them as well.
The biggest Veterans Services event is taking place this month. On Nov. 18, from 9 a.m. to noon, DuHart-Wood and the Athletics Department are co-hosting the Freedom 5K to celebrate Veterans Day. The event coincides with the military appreciation football game against Portland State University. In previous years, 80 to 100 runners participated in the race, so this year the goal is to increase that number. Proceeds go to funding veteran scholarships.
Passion for Online Gaming
On the surface, many wouldn’t expect DuHart-Wood to be an avid gamer who plays Apex Legends, Super Smash Brother, Mario Kart and Call of Duty, which is her favorite of them all. Her in-game skills are proudly showcased on her social media accounts.
“I enjoy gaming because it provides an immersive escape into fantasy worlds and engaging challenges that I find mentally stimulating,” Duhart-Wood said. “Gaming has been a beloved hobby since my childhood, thanks mainly to my older sister, who first introduced me to video games.”
DuHart-Wood has combined her dedication to gaming with her experience serving in the Army and has begun researching veterans participating in competitive video gaming. The research focuses on first-person shooter games and how playing online can affect veterans. Sometimes taking the war off the field and into a digital space can cause aggression or create a positive reaction in veterans, DuHart-Wood says. She wants to see if gaming can have holistic benefits for veterans.
“I chose to study veterans playing competitive video games because many veterans face challenges reintegrating into civilian life and developing social support networks after service,” Duhart-Wood said. “Competitive multiplayer games that require teamwork and communication can provide veterans with opportunities to apply their military experience positively, make new connections and find a sense of purpose.”
Other research DuHart-Wood has conducted has been in criminal justice involving juvenile recidivism, the school to prison pipeline with the differences between Black and white people, veterans research in transitioning into academia in Colorado and veteran sex addiction.
Duhart-Wood has found her sense of purpose and will be applying it at UNC. She wants to ensure all practices at Veterans Services are ethically and morally up to date and that everyone’s identity is welcomed and not overlooked. She is planning to provide students with professional and non-professional development opportunities so they can acquire skills to not only help themselves, but also other veterans. Ultimately, DuHart-Wood wants every veteran on campus to feel part of a community.
– written by Zvi Gutierrez, the Marketing and Communications Department student writer.