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ACU student Michael Addis is helping other veterans find their footing in higher education

Michael Addis: “The defence force prepares people to have resilience to stick at it”.

FROM the brutality of war to caring for the sick, 25-year-old Brisbane man, Michael Addis, has been inspired to study nursing and to help like-minded young veterans.

After a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2015-16, the former soldier returned to Australia and enrolled in a nursing degree at the Australian Catholic University, Brisbane campus.

“In war, it’s the civilian population that really suffers. But watching how much the coalition trainers made a difference in the lives of the local population gave me the desire to want to help people,” Mr Addis, who was stationed at bases in Kandahar and Kabul that were subject to shelling and rocket fire, said.

He didn’t fight on the front line against the Taliban forces, but as a 20-year-old private he did witness the horrors of war in the hospitals and clinics as part of a security detail tasked with protecting coalition trainers.

“After I was discharged from the army, I started to look around at different universities in Brisbane.  I finally chose ACU over other institutions because of its welcoming and inclusive culture,” Mr Addis said.

ACU is part of a network of Australian universities that work to support students who are also Australian Defence Force veterans.

Mr Addis said he was passionate about nursing, and particularly mental health – hardly surprising when you learn that his mother was a mental health nurse, and his father a psychiatrist.

ACU has partnered with the Australian Student Veterans’ Association and several other Australian universities on a major national project to increase access to and support of younger military student veterans in higher education.

The project builds on findings from previous research by La Trobe University’s Centre for Higher Education Equity and Diversity (CHEEDR) with the ASVA, which found that most student veterans were not identified within higher education institutions, and many felt marginalised and unsupported.

“For many soldiers there’s a stigma about studying. They question whether they could do well at it,” Mr Addis said.

“The truth is the defence force prepares people to have resilience and to stick at it.”

As part of its initiatives to support student veterans, ACU and the ASVA sponsored Mr Addis to attend the 2019 US Student Veteran Association’s National Conference in Orlando, Florida. 

NatCon is the largest annual gathering of student veterans, advocates, thought-leaders, stakeholders, and supporters in higher education in the world.

Mr Addis said that he planned to implement much of what he had learnt at the conference and that there were common experiences with the US Student Veterans that transcended national boundaries.

“They described how they felt underprepared and isolated once commencing higher education. This is an issue I also experienced and seek to overcome for future Student Veterans at ACU,” Mr Addis said.

Mr Addis is now president of ACU’s Student Veterans chapter and ACU’s first Veteran Administration Officer, located within ACU Engagement Brisbane. 

The ACU Engagement team is working to develop a comprehensive program to support student veterans at ACU.

“I hope the program can offer a range of benefits alleviating transitional issues for veterans within higher education,” he said.

“The goal is for more veterans to enjoy success at university.”

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