DEREK CARSON, Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- The Community College of Vermont recently announced that it received an $81,000 grant that will allow the college to improve the services it provides to veterans.
The grant, which was made by David Stiller through his fund at the Vermont Community Foundation, will allow CCV to hire a full-time veteran’s resource advisor for southern Vermont, as well as computer simulation software designed to train faculty, staff, and peer mentors about the needs of veterans in the classroom.
CCV began providing enhanced services for veterans in 2011, after receiving grants from the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation and Bari and Peter Dreissigacker, through their fund at the Vermont Community Foundation. Previously, said CCV’s executive dean, Susan Henry, the college had one person in its registrar’s office who helped veterans navigate their benefits. "We had bare-bones services, focusing mostly on filing paperwork," she said. With the passage of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, however, filing for veterans’ benefits became "exponentially more complicated," said Henry.
The grant funds have allowed CCV to hire a full-time advisor, who would serve all of its 12 campuses. CCV hired Shara Vincelette, a veteran, to fill the position.
"She is someone students can relate to, as she shares their military experience," said CCV’s Director of Student Support Services, Heather Weinstein. Vincelette immediately made an impact, training advisors at each of the campuses and reaching out to veterans’ organizations that the college had not been working with previously, in order to make sure veteran students got all the benefits they were entitled to. "She really helped us to understand the services that are available to veterans," said Weinstein.
However, Vincelette, who was based in Franklin County, found it difficult to come down to southern Vermont to meet with students. "It was hard for her to get to the southern part of Vermont, so she was advising via email and over the phone," said Henry. The new VRA for southern Vermont will be based in Rutland.
Weinstein said that the CCV will be hiring Kyle Aines to fill the new position. Aines is a recent graduate of Castleton State College, in Castleton, N.Y., and served two tours of duty in Iraq as a combat medic. Recently, said Weinstein, he had been working actively in the Rutland community as a volunteer. "He has quite a history of serving and supporting others, and we’re excited to have him aboard," said Weinstein.
Vincelette has also designed and taught a one-credit course entitled "Combat to Classroom" designed to help veterans make the transition to college life. "Students will gain skills that will encourage a successful transition to college. Students will learn to navigate and access services designed to support success," reads the course description.
The grant will also provide interactive training for staff and peer mentors through Kognito. Two different 30-minute online programs are designed to help participants understand the unique needs and experiences of veterans. One example, said Henry, was that veterans will often instinctively seat themselves close to, and facing, the door. Faculty may ask them to move, unaware of their reasons for choosing that seat, and could cause the veteran to become anxious or otherwise uncomfortable.
The Kognito software will walk the participants through several difficult situations that may arise, and ask them to choose responses in virtual conversations. If the participant chooses the wrong response, the software will explain the correct response and why their choice was wrong.
"I think the reason it’s so important," said Henry, "is the transition veterans need to go through, from the military culture to college life." CCV currently offers veterans peer mentoring services, so they can learn some of the ins and outs of being a student from those who have had similar experiences. Vincelette has recently been in talks with the Department of Veterans Affairs about the possibility of opening VA offices on the campuses, although those talks are still in the early stages.
"We’re at a really exciting point in our veterans services," said Weinstein, "because we are focusing on the students themselves, and their needs. We’re working on building a sense of community for veterans, because we know veterans often miss that camaraderie."
CCV enrolls more undergraduate military-connected students than any other college in Vermont, with about 400 each semester. Weinstein praised the small class sizes, services that help to ease their transition, and the college’s 12 locations and strong online program, which allow students to attend classes without a long commute.
"I think it’s the nature of the time in their lives," said Henry, "If they have young families, if they’re working, if they can only attend college part-time. CCV is designed to be accessible."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB