Victoria College Helps Former Military Personnel Transition to Student Life

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by Eric Jensen

For military veterans enrolling in Victoria College, Staci Kelly can be seen as a welcoming transition to academic life.

Kelly serves as VC’s Veterans Services Advisor, assisting students who are afforded veterans benefits in pursuing their academic and professional goals. She also helps veterans locate and complete the required documents needed by the Department of Veterans Services in order for benefits to be awarded.

“…I wanted to create a veteran-friendly environment and provide support to new military students.”

The advisor to former service members is a veteran herself, having served four years in the Marine Corps where she worked in procurement. Kelly knows firsthand what veterans enrolling at Victoria College need and want.

“A lot of them just need guidance and direction,” she says.

“When I started college in 2006, there were a few veteran students at VC,” Kelly says. “When I had the opportunity to begin working with students in 2011, I wanted to create a veteran-friendly environment and provide support to new military students.”

The advisor serves about 100 veterans who come to Victoria College each semester, helping them with academic schedules and guiding them to helpful agencies. She also assists another 150 military dependents and families using veterans benefits.

“Before they joined the military, they probably weren’t planning on going to college,” Kelly says of the veterans she assists. “But then they learn about funds that are available to them, and many can’t resist the opportunity to better themselves.”

Kelly says that Texas military veterans may be unaware they are eligible for scholarships and grants. Many can receive GI Bill benefits.

Those who served honorably could receive the Hazlewood Exemption, in which eligible veterans, their children, and spouses may be exempt from paying all tuition, fees, and other required charges, including fees for correspondence courses.

VC’s Veterans Services Office has worked with the Gary’s Care Packages program, collecting donated items for care packages shipped to military personnel stationed overseas. The program was started in Victoria and honors Gary Walters, who died in Iraq in 2005 at the age of 32.

Kelly says that Texas military veterans may be unaware they are eligible for scholarships and grants. Many can receive GI Bill benefits.

Another campus benefit to veterans is the Victoria College Veterans Association, a social group that provides support and helps find resources for fellow military students, both veteran and currently serving, from all branches of service. The group also supports the Wounded Warrior Project in which wounded veterans are invited to take part in a fishing tournament on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Membership numbers vary depending on the semester, Kelly says.

She encourages area veterans to keep in touch and receive information through the Victoria Veterans Facebook page.

Some veterans may think they can’t be successful college students, but Kelly equates their military experiences to classroom success.

“I tell them, ‘You led people through bullets, but you can’t write an English paper?’” she says. “You can be successful here, but you have to have a plan.”

Military service can translate to college credit, but this is at the discretion of the student’s degree program, Kelly says. Veterans can receive two physical education credits toward an associate degree and two elective hours, depending on their time served in the military.

Another way Victoria College can assist its military veteran students is through the creation of a Veteran Student Services Center. This is part of the College’s 2012-15 Strategic Plan.

“Victoria College recognizes that more and more veterans and their families are coming back to VC to take advantage of veterans benefits afforded them,” says Dr. Florinda Correa, Vice President of Student Services. “With this in mind, VC plans to explore the benefits to our students by creating a Veteran Student Services Center.”

The Center will offer transition services to help military personnel become successful students and will support the development of a veteran students learning community at VC. CF

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