Military veterans soon will receive a career and vocational boost with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and MTSU.
The VA and MTSU are entering into a partnership called “VetSuccess on Campus.” MTSU will become the first university in Tennessee and one of only 16 nationwide to be a part of the VetSuccess program.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Travis Kraft, acting director of the Veterans Affairs Nashville Regional office, signed a formal memorandum of understanding on March 13 in the University’s Sam Ingram Building.
“Our mutual goal is to ease the transition of veterans from combat to campus,” McPhee said. “We will work together to provide veterans a more supportive campus environment and easier access to benefits such as academic advice, financial aid, career counseling and peer support.”
McPhee added that MTSU continues as the No. 1 higher-education choice of Tennessee veterans and G.I. Jobs magazine has named the University a “Military-Friendly Campus” for the second year in a row.
Heather Conrad, a Veterans Affairs counselor from Nashville, will work at MTSU starting April 2.
She will provide on-campus services such as career counseling and vocational planning and will act as a liaison to help answer questions on VA Chapter 33 and other VA benefits, said Cathy Kirchner, University registrar. Conrad also will work directly with the University’s Chapter 31 vocational-rehabilitation veterans.
“This is a wonderful program that’s virtually free to MTSU,” said Kirchner, adding that the University will provide office space in Room 201 in the Cope Administration Building. Veterans Affairs will pay Conrad’s salary and buy supplies and equipment.
“I’m excited,” said Conrad, who has worked for the VA for 15 years. “This is an amazing opportunity to be a part of the campus culture, helping veterans adjust to the civilian world.
“A veteran coming out of the service generally will be in their late 30s or early 40s and will need a lot of adjustment to ease that transition into college. They need a warm attitude and approach. I will be there to support their needs to the best of my ability. I won’t just give them a 1-800 phone number; I’m going to get on the phone or the Internet and make calls, if necessary, for them.”
Bettye Hodge, vocational rehabilitation and employment officer for the Veterans Affairs Nashville Region, joined Kraft and Conrad at the MOU signing.
MTSU Provost Brad Bartel, Associate Vice Provost David Cicotello, Lt. Col. Tharrel “T.K.” Kast and Kirchner joined McPhee as MTSU representatives at the signing. Kast serves as professor of military science, directing the University’s ROTC program.
McPhee also acknowledged several officers and executives representing Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, the adjutant general of Tennessee and an MTSU alumnus. They included Lt. Col. Jim Reed; retired Navy veteran John Patterson; retired Army veteran Mike Goodrich; John V. Patterson, family assistance coordinator for the Tennessee National Guard; and Maj. Andy Ashley, TNG education services officer and company commander as well as a 1992 MTSU graduate.
MTSU currently has “992 students receiving GI benefits,” Kirchner said, adding that more than 1,000 students received GI benefits last fall. The spring 2012 semester total includes 80 vocational-rehabilitation veterans.
The MTSU Registrar’s Office has two full-time employees, Ray Howell and Gerry Craig, and seven student employees who are dedicated to certifying veterans’ benefits in a timely manner, Kirchner said. (That website is www.mtsu.edu/records/vets.shtml.)
“At MTSU, we are fortunate to have so many administrators and faculty on campus working to help veterans in the areas of advising, filing for GI benefits, course selection and vocational counseling,” Kirchner said.
In her new position, Conrad will be working closely with the University’s new Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which includes faculty, administrators and the president of BRAVO, MTSU’s student veterans organization. Dr. Tony Johnston, a a School of Agribusiness and Agriscience professor and U.S. Army veteran who remains active in the Tennessee Army National Guard, serves as committee chair.
VetSuccess began in June 2009 as a pilot project at the University of South Florida. Three months later, VetSuccess expanded to Cleveland State University and San Diego State University. Texas A&M University-Central Texas was among two community colleges and three four-year schools adding VetSuccess in October 2010.
For more information about VetSuccess, visit http://vetsuccess.gov online or click on the “VetSuccess” logo above. Read the text of the agreement here, and watch a short video on the signing ceremony below.
Starting Monday, April 2, call Conrad at 615-898-2974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions or schedule an appointment for services at MTSU.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)