Proceedings—Think Tank Discussion:
Serving Veterans at Green River Community College
August 20, 2008

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Purpose

The Think Tank Discussion: Serving Veterans at GRCC was hosted by Green River Community College (GRCC) and was partially funded by the US Department of Education as part of the AccessCollege project at the University of Washington in Seattle. The purpose of the event was to identify ways in which existing campus programs and services can collaborate to improve veterans' access to GRCC academic programs and support services as well as to increase faculty and staff awareness of the characteristics, interests, and needs of returning veterans, including those with disabilities.

Agenda

9:00
Welcome and Introductions
9:30
Presentation on Veterans Issues in Postsecondary Education, including at GRCC
10:00
Panel Discussion
Veterans and family members addressed the following questions:
  1. What are your thoughts and experiences with college as a veteran or as a family member of a veteran?
  2. What campus and academic programs, resources, and support services did you use or did your family member(s) use in the transition to campus life?
  3. From your perspective, what are two or three specific gaps in services or programs that impacted your transition or the transition of your family member(s) to campus?
10:45
Group Discussion of Questions Two and Three (listed above)
11:15
Break
11:30
Introduction of Veterans Coordinating Council and Community of Practice
  • Membership
  • Faculty and staff professional training
  • Campus connections and student groups
  • Resource development and budget planning
  • Outreach and marketing (technology, open communication, and the web)
  • Other
12:00
Lunch
12:30
Action Planning
  • Small group discussion on strategies, training, and services
  • Brainstorm ideas that can be implemented in the 2008-2009 school year
1:45
Summary

Presentation on Veteran Issues

Presenters: Mark Fischer and Peter Schmidt

The content presented included

There are a significant number of veterans experiencing mental health issues related to combat experiences that require our attention. It is important for community college faculty, staff, and administration to be aware of the symptoms and severity of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and head injuries, two common health issues of returning veterans.

A number of resources are available for veterans. However, some veterans choose not to get counseling or help after serving in the military for fear of the stigma associated with mental health issues, including being identified as unfit.

Panel Discussion

Facilitator: Al Souma

Panel: Richard Douglas, Sandra Davidson, Doug Gannon, Jeremy Grisham, Manilla, Diane Martin, and Patty Sherman

  1. What are your thoughts and experiences with college as a veteran or as a family member of a veteran?

    Many veterans struggle with how to transition into civilian life when they return from service and may spend months or even years disengaged from civilian life. Often it takes a relative or friend to encourage a veteran to enroll in school and determine their career interests. The Veterans Conservation Corp helps many veterans get back on track with their lives and goals. The program creates a sense of belonging and purpose. PTSD may present difficulties for veterans and may require accommodations from faculty in the classroom. Some veterans may come to college with a misperception of the student population, thinking that the students are all young, liberal, pierced, etc. The military culture is different than the classroom culture. Veterans are trained to work as one unit with a clear and distinctive mission. Once in college, many veterans must learn to relate to peers and meet faculty expectations in a new way.

    College is a whole new world for veterans and provides many options and directions. Campus bureaucracy can be overwhelming for veterans who are not familiar with the various departments, policies, and procedures. There isn't a main path that veterans may follow to get to college. Some stumble into it, some are encouraged to apply by loved ones, and others eventually find their way after spending time isolated and withdrawn from the community. It is not unusual for veterans to come from disparate populations and struggle with self-esteem issues. Veteran's military identity shifts once they leave the military.

  2. What campus and academic programs, resources, and support services did you use or did your family member(s) use in the transition to campus life?

    The most important support service for a vet is a welcoming environment. Veterans are sensitive to whether or not a school is veteran-friendly. In a non-veteran friendly school, vets may have to hunt for programs and assistance, the staff may have an uncaring and unresponsive attitude, and the atmosphere is not perceived as helpful or welcoming.

    One support service that veterans may use more than other students is career services. Many veterans come to college because they are unable to do the professional work they did while serving in the military. Many do not know what they want to do in civilian life and require vocational guidance. Interest assessment tools, aptitude tests, or a career orientation class would be several possible options. Sometimes veterans also need help translating a skill they used in the military to civilian language for their resume.

  3. From your perspective, what are two or three specific gaps in services or programs that impacted your transition or the transition of your family member(s) to campus?

    Gaps in services and programs sometimes prevent a veteran from being successful on campus. Accessibility and assessment are important for closing these gaps. Veterans want colleges to have a safe entry point with accurate veteran related information available by knowledgeable staff. In the classroom, specific accommodations may be required. It is not always easy for a veteran to obtain medical documentation as quickly as required by disability support services (DSS) to receive accommodations. A vet might not tolerate standing in lines, loud noises, or a threatening environment. One best practice colleges can do is educate its staff, faculty, and administration on the after effects of war trauma and what services veterans may require. The college should be aware of issues that veterans face such as alcoholism, isolation, and transitional challenges facing the returning vet. One approach in working with a vet is to assist them in determining their career "mission" or goals.

Veterans Coordinating Council and Community of Practice Action Planning

A Veterans Coordinating Council and Community of Practice will help implement the following list of ideas, generated from the discussion. The main purpose of the council is to close the gaps that currently exist in our system, beginning by raising veteran awareness on campus. The council will focus on closing the gaps in areas that include, but are not limited to

  1. faculty and staff professional training;
  2. campus connections and student groups;
  3. resource development and budget planning; and
  4. outreach and marketing to include technology, open communication, and the web.

The following content summarizes suggestions presented by participants:

  1. Faculty and staff professional training
    • Veteran's panel discussion (identify stakeholders who can be brought into discussions).
    • Identify faculty and staff that are veterans.
    • Post veteran safe zone and "I am a vet" flyers.
    • Talk about fears or strategies when working with veterans.
    • Offer anger management classes for students and workshops for faculty and staff on how to de-escalate an anger moment.
    • Use In-Service Day to train personnel on veteran awareness.
    • New faculty orientation materials can include a veteran awareness packet.
  2. Campus connections and student groups
    • Establish a Veterans Club that is open to all students.
    • Host one event per quarter so that veterans can learn more about the various departments on campus.
    • Find a way to track veterans as they progress through GRCC.
    • Send information packets about what the veteran's office provides in terms of GI benefits.
    • Gator guide idea: Vet to Vet.
    • Engage with the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC).
    • Host a Veterans Day (Nov 11) celebration.
  3. Resource development and budget planning
    • Engage staff to address these issues.
  4. Outreach and marketing (technology, open communication, and the Web)
    • Create a link to a veteran website on the GRCC's home page. This website will have information regarding
      • veteran events,
      • the GI Bill,
      • campus services (e.g., counseling, veterans, and DSS offices),
      • program information (e.g., eLearning, Natural Resources),
      • toll-free telephone numbers,
      • student clubs, and
      • links to MySpace and blogs.
    • Use GRCC events to extend a welcome to veterans. Upcoming events could include
      • HSP Breakfast (Nov 5) and
      • Next Step.
    • Distribute marketing materials in stations, military bases, education fairs, apartments, laundry mats, community centers, churches, libraries, recovery centers, health clinics, the VFW, and community boards (e.g., Starbucks).
    • Create a panel that will present at WF, DSS, and Outreach.

General ideas for implementation

For further information on GRCC's Veteran's Coordinating Council, please contact Deb Casey, Ph.D. Dean of Student Services and Retention at phone number 253-833-9111 X3328

Participants

Acknowledgment:

The Think Tank Discussion: Veterans at GRCC was hosted by Green River Community College and sponsored in part by the AccessCollege project, which is funded under a grant from the Department of Education, No. P333A050064. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government. This publication can be used by other campuses as they strive to best meet the needs of veteran students, particularly those who have disabilities.

About GRCC

GRCC is a fully accredited two-year community college with the main campus located in Auburn, Washington. GRCC improves the lives of people within diverse communities by providing quality education and training programs. GRCC assists students in defining and achieving their goals through instructional excellence, innovative programs and responsive services.

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