Students play pool at the Veterans House just off West Campus

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By Joe Wilensky

Andy Shin ’23, an Army reservist, arrived on the Hill in fall 2021 straight out of basic training. He hadn’t yet finalized his housing plan—and he was happy to learn that there were rooms available at the just-opened Veterans Program House near campus.

“I showed up with two duffel bags,” Shin recalls, “still in my uniform.”

Today, Shin is a master’s student in public administration at the Brooks School of Public Policy; he’s also the resident adviser for the house, the only student-veteran-oriented program house in the Ivy League.

The Veterans Program House is just across the street from the edge of West Campus
The house is just downhill from West Campus.

Located at the corner of Stewart and University avenues on the edge of West Campus, the residence is geared toward students who are veterans—though it’s open to anyone with connections to, or an interest in, the military community.

Home to 26 men and women, the residence features lounges, a library rich with military history and memorabilia, study spots, a workout room, kitchens, and recreation spaces. House alumni and friends have donated a pool table, a piano, and workout equipment; several chess boards are often in use.

Those who have lived in the house since its opening two years ago have included ROTC students and undergrads with military-affiliated relatives.

Amid Halloween decorations, two residents of the Veterans Program House study at a table
The residence sports seasonal decor and multiple study spots.

Will McCleary III ’25 transferred to Cornell in January 2023 from a community college after serving four years with the U.S. Marines. For him, the house was a key draw.

“It has been so helpful being around older, nontraditional students, because we have similar life experiences,” he says. “It’s really easy to connect and make friends with anyone who lives here.”

It has been so helpful being around older, nontraditional students, because we have similar life experiences.

Will McCleary III ’25

Veterans have long been part of Cornell’s diverse student population.

As part of the University’s land-grant mission, Cornell has offered instruction in military science since its inception. It established an ROTC unit in 1917, and has seen its graduates serve in every major conflict since the Spanish-American War.

(A recent oral history project, conducted by a CALS senior who's a U.S. Navy veteran, has collected some of their stories, as well as memorabilia from their time in uniform.)

Currently, 73 veterans are actively enrolled as undergrads and 165 as graduate or professional students.

It’s a community that has been steadily growing over the past decade, as the University has stepped up recruitment of, and support for, military veterans.

In 2017, Provost Michael Kotlikoff—a longtime supporter of student veterans—announced an initiative to increase undergraduate veteran enrollment.

It also established the Summer Bridge Program to facilitate admissions and support the transition to Cornell.

Veterans House residents play chess in a common area of the house
Chess and chill: residents hang out.

“These students are usually older than our other undergraduates and have typically transferred to Cornell from another college,” Kotlikoff notes.

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“Within the broader undergraduate community, they have greatly benefited from the anchor of a community with similar experiences, and greatly benefit Cornell by bringing a diversity of experience and thought to the classroom.”

The University’s overall efforts have paid off: the increased recruitment and the establishment of the program house helped Cornell tie for the top spot as the best college for veterans in U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 rankings.

Like Kotlikoff, Shin notes that for many student veterans, military service—with its focus on professionalism and discipline—along with at least several additional years of maturity and life experience, sets them apart once they arrive on a college campus.

“The military is not an easy profession,” he says. “You have to have the grit and the commitment to see it through. You have to get on with the mission—and now our mission is to be good students and find our career path.”

Now our mission is to be good students and find our career path.

Andy Shin ’23

Mark Minton ’23, who served as the house’s first RA, notes that it quickly became a nexus and gathering space for veterans on campus—even for those not living there.

“It has been instrumental in fostering a tight-knit community,” he says, “enabling veterans to find common ground, share experiences, and grow together.”

Roland Molina ’22, a former president of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association helped establish the house and now serves on its advisory board.

“Several founding residents still reside in the house,” he notes, “and newer residents have adopted the house culture of camaraderie.”

Two residents of the Veterans Program House chat in a common area
Student veterans have built a community, with the house as a hub.

The house offers programming like a networking event, sponsored by the Cornell Military Network, that was held during Homecoming. It has also hosted attendees of an Ivy League Veterans Council conference, and residents have been invited to ROTC balls and events.

Yidi Wang ’24, a psychology major in Arts & Sciences and a service member in the New York Army National Guard, matriculated on the Hill in spring 2022.

She recalls that her transition to campus life was difficult—until she moved into the program house after her first semester.

LP album covers on a tabletop at the Veterans Program House
Vinyl variety: LPs hint at a diverse playlist.

“It might be awkward for me, as a 26-year-old, to say I was ‘lonely’—but I was disconnected from my peers, because they were five or six years younger than me,” she recalls.

“The house seemed to have everything I’d been looking for.”

The residents are a tight-knit group, notes ILR student Michael Sanchez ’23, a former aircraft technician in the Marines and the current CUVA president.

“We all know each other so well that you can tell if somebody’s having an off day,” he says. “You can say, ‘Hey, what’s up? You want to get some pizza?’ and talk it out. People genuinely care for each other. If you live here, even if you’re not a vet, you’re part of the community.”

All photos by Ryan Young / Cornell University.

Published November 8, 2023


  1. Barbara Travers

    Great article; great support of our military-connected students. Thank you for all you do to provide support.

  2. Chad Snee, Class of 1988

    What a fantastic place! I am proud of Cornell’s unwavering support for veterans. I graduated out of the NROTC program at Cornell and served 21 years before retiring in 2012. I offer grateful thanks to my fellow Big Red veterans for your service.

  3. Nils Nordberg, Class of 1955

    As a CU’55 ATO, I am delighted to see what the university is doing with my old fraternity house. No active duty, but 17 years Army reserve after CU ROTC. Look forward to visiting during HEC’24.

  4. Ben Richardson, Class of 1989

    After 32 years in the NYARNG, I so pleased to see actual momentum behind support for our Cornell service members. The summer, integration programming for incoming vets also seems to be on point as well. Keep going!

  5. Neal Haber, Class of 1975

    When I was an ILR student in the early 70s, there was a small group of Vietnam veterans who were also ILR students. I was impressed with their maturity and focus as well as with their connections with each other. I am glad that the University has developed a program house as a support for this important segment of the Cornell community.

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