Although Covid-19 prevented us from hosting our annual Student Poster Session, we do want to extend thanks to the many students who submitted posters. All were given a free year of membership in CPA and were encouraged to share their work here. Below is one such submission, from Brittany Carbaugh. We hope that students are thinking now about what they will submit to our next poster session!
From Service to Studies: Resilience and College Adjustment in Student Service Members/Veterans
Brittany A. Carbaugh
Cleveland State University
In less than a decade, the number of U.S. military service members/veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to attend higher education has nearly doubled from 365,640 people in 2010 to 790,507 in 2016 (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016). The rate of increase of student service members/Veterans (SSM/Vs) in higher education over the past decade warrants attention and empirical study. One recent study found that 28.3% of SSM/Vs in their sample reported difficulty adjusting to college life (Shonfeld, Braue, Stire, Gum, Cross, & Brown, 2015). College adjustment is understood as the way in which individuals acclimate to the new environment and culture of academia. These individuals bring a distinct set of interpersonal and intrapersonal characteristics with them to college campuses, yet there’s a paucity of research exploring the factors related to their college adjustment. Though there’s much to learn regarding this population’s adjustment to college, the challenges they face when integrating back into civilian life have long been identified. Specifically, SSM/Vs are known to face a number of challenges after military services such as concerns with identity (Griffin & Gilbert, 2015), mental health disorders such as PTSD and depression (Ackerman, DiRamio, & Mitchell, 2009), traumatic brain injury (TBI; Shackelford, 2009), alcohol and substance abuse concerns (Aikins, Golub, & Bennett, 2015), finding purpose and meaning (Jinkerson, Holland, & Soper, 2016), and difficulties in finding appropriate social support (Smith, Vilhauer, & Chafos, 2017)
Less is known, however, about the protective factors for SSM/Vs when re-integrating into civilian life and specifically higher education. Recent literature has highlighted the importance of receiving mental health treatment (Shonfeld et al., 2015), having adequate social support (Elliot, 2015; Ness, Middleton, & Hildebrandt, 2015), and having access to military and veteran resource centers on higher education campuses (Ackerman, DiRamio, & Mitchell, 2009) as crucial factors in facilitating a successful adjustment for SSM/Vs. Even fewer studies exist that are informed by a Positive Psychology perspective. One study (Cleveland, Branscum, Bovbjerg, & Thorburn, 2015) aligned closely with a Positive Psychology framework in explaining their findings. Specifically, the authors noted a phenomenon known as the “healthy warrior effect” and postulated that some SSM/Vs have a lower vulnerability to stress in higher education because of their maturity and life experiences. One construct within positive psychology, resilience, could help to explain why some SSM/Vs adjust well to college, while others struggle with the transition. Resilience is considered to be a product of personal and environmental characteristics that explain why some people flourish after trauma and others do not. Therefore, we will use a strengths-based, positive psychology perspective to understand the impact of resilience on SSM/V’s college adjustment in this quantitative study.
Through a series of multiple regression analyses, we will explore the effects of resilience on college adjustment from a number of different angles. Moderation analysis will assess whether the relationship between resilience and college adjustment differs depending on: 1) SSM/V combat exposure; and 2) military affiliation status (e.g. veteran versus National Guard/Reserve member). Mediation analysis will examine whether resilience mediates the relationship between PTSD, depression, and anxiety diagnoses and college adjustment. This study hopes to contribute findings regarding the strengths and assets of SSM/Vs to a body of empirical literature that currently pathologizes and focuses on this population’s setbacks and challenges. Highlighting the strengths of this population, while acknowledging the challenges they face, can offer an empowering solution to both SSM/Vs and institutions of higher education in helping this population be successful in college. Ideally, findings will inform implications for practice, especially at college counseling centers. If clinicians better understand this population’s unique experiences in college, they can practice from a more informed position that will help improve rapport building and more accurately inform interventions. Knowledge gained from this study could also help college administrators develop more effective outreach and resources on campus that are tailored to the specific needs of SSM/Vs.
This study has been approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board and currently is in the data collection phase. We are recruiting participants directly through colleges/universities nation-wide and through Amazon’s MTURK. Participants must be 18 years of age or older, must identify as a current or former member of a branch of the United States’ armed services (e.g. Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, reserves, or national guard), and must be currently enrolled as a student at a college/university in the United States to participate in the study. Participants recruited through MTURK must first pass a brief screening survey to determine eligibility for the study. The following measures are used: to measure resilience, the 10-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC; Campbell-Sills & Stein, 2007); to measure college adjustment, the 12-item Veterans Adjustment to College scale (VAC; Young, 2017); to measure depression, the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9; Kroenke, Spitzer, & Williams, 2001); to measure anxiety, the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD-7; Spitzer, Kroenke, Williams, & Lowe, 2006); and to measure PTSD, the 20-item Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5; Blevins, Weathers, Davis, Witte, & Domino, 2015). Following data collection, the results will be analyzed using SPSS, with the findings, implications for practice and research, as well as the strengths and limitations of the study discussed.