Colleges try to ease transition for veterans
By Laura Diamond The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 4:49 a.m. Tuesday, July 5, 2011 When…
Georgia (Jul 5, 2011) — By Laura Diamond
Link To Articlehttp://www.ajc.com/news/colleges-try-to-ease-999496.html
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
When Frank Wills left the Marines in 2004, he enrolled in a community college and used the federal GI Bill to earn a degree.
But he struggled with the adjustment from combat to the classroom and found few people on campus who could ease the transition. It wasn't until he transferred to another college that he found support in the campus' Center for American Veterans. There, Wills finally got help with everything from how to apply for federal education benefits to where to find money until those payments arrived to how to sign up for clubs and work-study programs.
Now Wills runs a similar center at Kennesaw State University and provides a guiding hand for other veterans trying to earn a degree. The one-stop center is one of a dozen in the University System of Georgia as colleges try to meet the needs of more than 5,600 students who are veterans, reservists and on active duty.
"We are a safe haven," said Wills, 32. "We support one another because, let's face it, veterans are different than a traditional 18-year-old kid."
Brendan Laude, a rising junior at Kennesaw, heard about the center from other students. At the center he learned more about his financial aid options and joined the student veterans club.
"I had just recently gotten back from Iraq and some people just don't know how to react to you when you say that, or they ask you questions you don't want to answer," Laude said. "It's nice to just be around people who understand you without you having to say a thing. It makes you feel like you fit in college."
The University System started the "Soldiers 2 Scholars" program in 2010 to make college more welcoming to veterans and those serving in the military. Georgia has a strong military connection with 11 active duty bases, six Air National Guard units and more than 90 National Guard armories, according to a report about the program.
The program receives some funding through a $4.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Education, said Tonya Lam, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
Besides helping students, the center trains faculty and staff so they better understand combat veterans, whether it be their readjustment to civilian life or being aware that some on active duty must withdraw from classes if they are deployed, she said.
Wills said just having a presence on campus shows military students there will be support for them.
The Kennesaw center holds an information program the first Friday of each month. The program, which lasts about an hour, explains how to apply to the college and for financial aid and explains the support students will have, Wills said.
"It's about making sure they know they're not alone here," Wills siad. "We are a family here."
Serving Georgia's military
The University System of Georgia started the Soldier 2 Scholars program to make campuses more inviting to veterans. The following colleges run centers to help veterans and their families:
- Albany State University
- Atlanta Metropolitan College
- Clayton State University
- Columbus State University
- Darton College
- Fort Valley State University
- Gainesville State College
- Georgia Perimeter College
- Kennesaw State University
- North Georgia College and State University
- Southern Polytechnic State University
- Valdosta State University
Source: University System of Georgia
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.