More than 2 million veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan looking to build career skills, and Northern Arizona University is focusing efforts to help this non-traditional student population earn a degree.

In line with this initiative, NAU’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs is hosting the regional military and veteran symposium in partnership with NAU’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Arizona National Guard and Arizona Coalition for Military Families from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, March 30, at the High Country Conference Center and NAU’s Native American Cultural Center.

Andrew Griffin, retired Army lieutenant colonel and NAU’s director of Military and Veteran Affairs, said the event will focus on the needs of student veterans and how to contribute to their success in higher education and career attainment.

“The event will focus on better identifying, understanding and appreciating the many unique challenges facing student veterans as they return from war and begin a new life as a student,” he said. “NAU’s goal is to improve student veteran retention and graduation rates through collaboration and coordination of services offered through the university and multiple agencies.”

A special session will focus on Native American student veterans, a population Griffin said “has had very little voice toward their social and educational issues.” The session will be held at NAU’s Native American Cultural Center.

The university currently has 850 military-affiliated students, and 650 are veterans.

NAU’s average student veteran is 29 years old, has a family, lives off-campus and completed high school a decade ago. Griffin said the student veterans’ needs differ greatly from that of a traditional student, and many colleges and universities are looking to develop better support systems for this growing student population.

In 2010, NAU introduced programs for student veterans including time management and organization skills, mental health resources and a college transition course, and opened a center to help build connections and foster encouragement between fellow veterans. The university recently was selected as one of G.I. Jobs “Military Friendly Schools.”

Event and registration details are available here.