Former Kent State student helps veterans with more than just financial aid


Joshua Rider, Assistant Director of the Center for Adult and Veteran Services, catches up on some work at his desk in the Michael Swartz Center. Rider helps student veterans apply for their Veteran Administration benefits and is also the advisor for the Kent State Veteran’s Campus Club. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Grant Engle

A young man sat at his computer desk anxiously holding his phone to his ear. He was tapping his pen against his notebook and wondering if he made the right decision when he took his honorable discharge and left the Navy to become a college student.

He was trying to schedule his freshman classes only a few weeks before the Fall 2009 semester, and he didn’t think anyone would be able to help him. Somehow, sitting in his air-conditioned apartment was more stressful than sitting in a meeting talking about the looming threat of a terrorist attack. The phone rang for what felt like forever.

Josh Rider, a general counselor at the financial aid office and Kent State graduate, answered the phone. The veteran started spilling his guts.

“Hey Josh,” he said with trepidation in his voice. “I don’t think I’m going to get into any classes. I have so many questions about how my tuition will be paid, and I don’t even know how to make my schedule.”

Rider spent 15 minutes walking the young man through scheduling an advising appointment and answering all of his questions. He erased the incoming freshman’s doubts by answering each question about veteran’s benefits quickly and concisely. The new college student breathed a sigh of relief, thanked Rider and hung up the phone.

That wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last veteran Rider has helped. But he often downplays his contributions to the student-veterans by saying things like it’s just his job and “these students deserve specialized assistance.”

Rider’s father was in the Navy, and his uncle served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam. Through his uncle’s experiences Rider developed a passion to help veterans.

“My uncle came home from Vietnam, and like most veterans then, he was treated horribly,” Rider said. “He struggled with what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder, and there wasn’t really any help for him. I know firsthand that some vets just need help.”

Rider is currently the assistant director of the Center for Adult and Veteran Services. He assumed the role after assisting hundreds of student-veterans as a financial aid clerk after the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect in 2009.

As Rider was getting comfortable with the new bill, he started to see the amount of veteran applicants increase rapidly. One of those students was Nate Lehota. He started at Kent State in Fall 2009 under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and is now a senior news major.

Lehota has the distinction of being the first student that Kent State received a tuition payment for under the new GI Bill. Rider said he remembers holding the single check from the VA. He thought of it as kind of a test. Days later, hundreds of checks for other students’ tuition came pouring into his office.

A native of nearby Mantua, Lehota said he always knew he was coming to Kent State, but he just got lucky that Rider was here to assist him with his financial aid and more.

“He just shows in so many ways that he cares about us as people,” Lehota said. “You can literally talk to him about anything.”

Lehota and Rider started the newest version of the Kent State Veterans’ Campus Club in 2009. The two men looked at the club as a way to help veterans adjust to college life.

Cat Hofer, a junior pre-nursing major, is the president of the club. She said her experience with the club is what gave her the motivation to stay at Kent State.

“I was ready to drop out,” Hofer said. “But [some former members of the club] got me to join. The Vet’s Club kept me at Kent State.”

The club participates in community service, organizes tutoring, holds social gatherings and lends moral support to veterans who feel out of place in the college environment. The club meets Tuesday nights at the Kent Veterans of Foreign Wars club about five minutes from campus.

Logan Ray Vance, junior integrated social studies major, was one of those students who felt out of place. He said it was strange to go into an environment where he had virtually nothing in common with the people around him. But Vance was most annoyed with the treatment he received from VA officials at other universities.

“I just got the run-around from people at other schools,” Vance said. “They just told me to go online and read that information. A friend who was already a student here told me to call Josh, and he gave me so much information right away. He told me like six different ways he could help me.”

Every Tuesday night around 7 p.m. the Kent VFW fills up with an energetic group of 20-somethings. The scene is somewhat of a paradox.

The bar was dimly lit, but the conversation was lively. The room was filled with old posters and pictures, but the young veterans were checking their iPhones and watching the flat-screen TVs above the bar. It was a convergence of decades of war history and modern-day military personnel.

The student-veterans sat around the bar and laughed and joked over drinks. Rider made the rounds as any polite host would, referring to every student by name, asking them how their families are and how they have been doing in school.

While Rider may technically lead the club, he said having a student organization completely made up by people with military training is easy. He described the members of the club as “mission-oriented, goal-oriented hard workers.”

Rider said the new era of vets coming from Operation Iraqi Freedom is different than any people have seen before.

“The major change is that they’re mostly younger and single with no dependents,” Rider said. “They’re just like regular college students, just a little older with some different life experiences. They want to be in clubs and meet new people too.”

Along with the motivation from his uncle’s experiences, Rider said the gratitude he feels toward veterans gives him the energy to help start different programs, interact with the club and keep an open-door policy with all of the veterans on campus.

“You’re working with a group of people who have served their country,” Rider said. “They deserve a different degree of assistance.”

Hofer said she believes Rider, or J-Ride, as he is called by some of the club’s members, goes above and beyond his job description because it’s his way of thanking veterans. She said Rider is saying “thank you” every time he goes out of his way to learn a new student-veteran’s name or help them fill out their paperwork when they are having trouble.

Rider can’t pick a single experience with a veteran that he would consider the most rewarding. But he explained that he is most proud of getting to witness the process a veteran goes through to finish college.

Rider said that he has seen several veterans who were “marginal” high school students succeed.

“You start by seeing a veteran who maybe people think should have never enrolled in college in the first place,” Rider explained. “And then people think they would never finish college after they started. But I get to watch them work hard and graduate with a four-year degree. The system worked for them. Now they can have a better standard of living than people expected them to have. That’s very rewarding to me.”

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected].