Southern Vermont College starting programs for vets
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | June 24,2013
BENNINGTON — Southern Vermont College is hoping to help military veterans “crosswalk” the skills they developed while serving their country into a college degree that will enable them to reach the next phase of their lives.
Karen Gross, president of Southern Vermont College, said she came up with the idea for the program while spending a sabbatical serving as a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She served as the department’s representative on an interagency task force created to redesign the Transition Assistance Program for 1.4 million men and women leaving the armed forces over the next four to five years.
“They’re trying to help the vets convert their military skills into civilian skills or their military training into educational course credit or educational opportunity,” she said.
The Veterans Scholar Program will have some similarities to the Mountaineer Scholar Program that the college started during the 2012-13 academic year. The Mountaineer was designed for at-risk students who might be the first members of their family to attend college and like that program, the Veterans program, will look at character and potential more than grades.
The 10 to 12 students will be recommended by their service. Gross said she will invite participation from the Marine Leadership Scholar program which already recommends Marines to colleges.
The students will get their own orientation, in addition to the standard orientation, and the college will provide mentoring, support systems and coordination with other veterans services approximate to Bennington.
Gross said she hopes the students will form a cohort, something that will be encouraged by the college, so those students in the program will have peers who can provide support and understanding. Southern Vermont College has already hired Wayne Hemingway Jr., an Army veteran and member of the National Guard who graduated from Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester and Southern Vermont College, to help create the program.
Hemingway said he hoped to get some of his fellow veterans involved in sports and look for what the college has to offer.
“I’m just happy to be part of a program especially at Southern Vermont College. It is like family. I’ve never seen teachers who care about their students so much. ... Since I went there, I want to be able to tell veterans there’s a lot of help for them there,” he said.
The goal of the program, in the short term, is to make sure the veterans are career ready and to provide a smoother transition from military life to civilian life, Gross said.
But the college is also hoping to create a model that other colleges can replicate at a scale that is appropriate to a particular campus.
Gross said she believed that Southern Vermont was a good place for the program because of the majors it offered which would be appropriate for those who have served in the armed forces like criminal justice, social services and health care, which might be of particular interest to military medics.
College officials also plan to monitor the program to be sure that students get help throughout their college careers.
“The redesign of the Transition Assistance Program, which encourages service men and women to enter higher education, will never be a success if they can’t make it through higher education. It isn’t enough for them to begin education, we have to find a way for them to successfully complete their education,” she said.
The timing is right for the program, which will either start in September or January, according to Gross.
“The nature of our military is changing. They’re drawing down troops. They’re returning. The time for this is now, it’s not like, ‘Let’s think about this for the next 10 years,’” she said.